When the snow conditions are firm, nothing offers uphill security like ski crampons, or as the Euros say, ”harscheisen”. As a long-time telemark skier, I only came to appreciate the utility of ski crampons when I began to more regularly use alpine touring gear a few years ago. However with many telemark binding manufacturers now offering crampons and the B&D Ski Gear aftermarket options, ski crampons are accessible to virtually all binding set-ups.
Unlike boot crampons, most ski crampons pivot under foot so that they engage in the snow when you step down and pivot up and slide when you lift your ski to stride forward. There is very little resistance or even change in the cadence of your stride when using ski crampons, but there is considerable benefit and grip when they engage.
If you know the feeling of “holding on” while skinning on firm snow or steep side-hills, imagine how much energy can be saved if each step is significantly more secure feeling. Well, that is what ski crampons do for you. They offer security and stability that is unmatched by skins. They are not a standalone climbing tool; they work in conjunction with your skins, and they save climbing energy.
Most binding companies make crampons that fit their bindings; Black Diamond has crampons for the 01 and 02 tele bindings, Fritschi makes crampons for their bindings, Dynafit makes ‘em for theirs and G3 makes one that works with their Targa Ascent. There are also a couple of universal options available from Voile and B & D Ski Gear.
B & D makes a variety of crampons and they are compatible with virtually all bindings except the 7tm tele binders. They also make a fixed crampon; one that is fixed to the ski and does not pivot as you stride. Voile’s universal crampon is also a fixed style. It mounts under the boot and is locked in the “on” position. The advantage of the fixed program is that it works the same regardless of your heel lifter use. The downfall is that it does not stride as cleanly as the pivoting variety. B & D makes a variety of shims and accessories that allow pivoting crampons to work better with heel lifters (personally, I rarely mix heel lifters and ski crampon use). B & D also makes crampons that accommodate wide skis (100mm+). Not all of the in-house varieties are compatible with all ski widths, but most folks seem to be catching up with the ever widening ski widths available.
The ease of use varies for the various crampons varies, but for the most part they are designed to be installed on the fly, and are easily removed when not needed. Obviously, you can live without ski crampons, but they are a pretty useful tool to have along, especially on high alpine and spring adventures. There is very little weight or space penalty for carrying them, and the reward when the going gets firm is big.