No one would accuse me of being an inexperienced ski mountaineer but, like one, for some reason, I've never owned a pair of ski crampons. Until this season, I was always watching my friends scurry along with them while I booted with crampons. If it was super firm, the difference in speed was marginal but if it was punchy I was dropped quickly. In spring their utility is undeniable when skinning up smooth, frozen corn and glazed skin tracks. But even in winter on wind swept passes and ridges, ski crampons take a terrifying, precarious moment and reduce it to pleasurable. They add a level of security and increase travel efficiency to a degree that is staggering.
Don't ask me why I waited so long. But now that I have them I will never be without them if there is a chance for that sketchy type of skinning where you feel if you end up on your hip you'll quickly find yourself in a slide for life to the bottom of the hill. Why fight it? Put the ski crampons on and stomp your way fearlessly upward.
Here in Alaska, the corn season is going off. In my lapping of a popular after work hill, I've yet to see another pair of ski crampons. Without fail, when I cruise effortlessly by my fellow skiers they stop their painful struggle long enough to stare at me like a labrador at his food bowl when you switch dog food. What the hell? Then they invariably accuse me of cheating. Ha!
One amusing anecdote I heard recently was the Samurai, (aka Jared Inouye), donning his crampons in a skimo race to fly up a frozen mogul field, leaving others in his wake to curse their nearly useless mohair.
Until recently, I never paid much attention to design differences between brands. Really, there aren't so many choices for tech binding users. Dynafit, B&D Ski Gear and Voile all make serviceable options. Even before I stepped up, I'd heard rumblings about differences between brands. Frankly, I couldn't remember the specifics so when I decided to join the believers, I simply walked into Teton Mountaineering and bought what they had, Dynafit. They were a sexy blue anodized color. I liked that. My Plum 145 Race bindings come with Dynafit crampon attachments so I was good to go.
My first outing with them was on a solo Grand Teton attempt. Typically, once above the Meadows, firm conditions below the Middle Teton headwall dictate booting up to the JHMG high camp. With ski crampons, however, I was delighted to cruise effortlessly (relatively speaking) nearly the whole way to Teepe Col with skis on. I found my self cursing all those years spent struggling without these little gifts from heaven.
Dynafit makes a simple, light ski crampon that pivots out of the way while striding. This is what I used initially and they seemed fine… until they weren't. After less than a few hours of usage one of mine broke. Disappointing, to be sure. There just doesn't seem to be enough metal where it matters to withstand the significant stress of the task. Suddenly, I was interested in the differences.
The guys at B&D Ski Gear have been making innovative after-market products for skiers for years. Seems to me I'd heard from Romeo (R.I.P., my friend) that B&D made the da kine version. With the corn season in full swing, I couldn't afford to be without a pair so I wasted no time ordering. I had them in four days.
The first thing I noticed was more metal where it mattered. True, they're slightly heavier than Dynafits (113 grams vs. 100 grams) but if they don't break… B&D also offers shims to place underfoot where the balls of your ski boot pressure the crampon. These allow earlier and deeper engagement of the crampon with the snow when up on your binding's riser. I think it also increases the stability of the crampon at the binding interface which likely reduces the stress on the attachment point. They add 17 grams with screws to each crampon.
B&D also makes an option that fixes the crampon flat to the ski. Some skiers like this additional level of security on sketchy slopes. The downside is that the crampon does not pivot out of the way on lower angle terrain making it grabby. I have no experience with this feature so can't really comment. I haven't felt like I needed this yet, however.
B&D makes a whole range of sizes to accomodate your quiver. It's important to use the size closest to the width of your ski, thereby reducing torque while side-hilling.
Either way, you NEED a pair of these. I'm actually stunned by how few skiers have them. On the other hand, maybe I shouldn't be so surprised since it took me this long to get them. Whatever. If you're reading this then you now know better. And for my money, B&D is the choice for all the reasons outlined above. Get some and quit banging your head against the frozen wall. - Brian