When the snow conditions are firm, nothing offers uphill touring security like ski crampons or, as they say in German, ”harscheisen.”
Ski crampons are climbing tools that attach to your ski bindings (or ski as with some aftermarket telemark solutions) and pivot underfoot as you skin up the hill. They are made for use on firm snow where skins alone do not offer enough grip. They engage in the snow with each step and pivot up as you lift and slide forward. Crampons are not a replacement for climbing skins; they complement the use of skins. There is very little resistance or even change in the cadence of your stride when using them, but there is considerable benefit and grip as you step down and they engage. Although you could potentially benefit from using crampons any time during the ski season, they are most commonly used during spring conditions when the melt freeze cycle leaves the snow surface firm.
Have you ever experienced the feeling of “holding on” while skinning on firm snow or traversing a steep side hill? Imagine how much energy you could save and how much easier travel would be if each step could be significantly more secure. Well, that is what ski crampons do for you. They offer security and stability that is unmatched by skins. But, again, they are not a standalone climbing tool; they work in tandem with your skins.
All of the alpine touring ski binding companies make crampons that fit their bindings: Dynafit crampons are compatible with all Dynafit binding models, G3 makes ‘em for the ION binding (read more about G3 ION crampons), Fritschi for the Xenic, Vipec and Tecton and Marker for the Alpinist and Kingpin. For telemark skiers, there are a couple of universal options available from Voile and B & D Ski Gear.
Ski crampon ease of use varies. 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 them, but once you’ve experienced the added climbing security, you will be sold. There is very little weight or space penalty for carrying them. And the reward when the going gets firm is big.
Check out this video from the American Mountain Guide Association about when to use ski crampons.