Waterfall Ice Safety Leaflet

ISM has produced a 'Waterfall Ice' safety leaflet, which we hope highlights potential hazards and help with decision making when chosing an ice route to climb this winter.

We'll distribute the leaflet throughout the main ice climbing areas in the Alps as well as being available at The Climbers Shop in Ambleside and Milton Keynes and also the Joe Brown Shops in North Wales.

Ice Leaflet Photo
Ice and Avalanche Safety Leaflet

Icefall climbing in the European Alps is a unique experience. An unparalleled choice of routes at all grades, on all aspects and at all altitudes means not only some incredible climbing, but also helps better decision making and staying safe through the winter.

Peter Best

But there’s risk associated to every outdoor adventure. When Icefall climbing you can expose yourself to avalanche terrain, falling ice and other hazards due to changing temperatures. We hope this leaflet will prompt you to make the best decisions.

Use this PARTNER to help plan and promote better decision making


History of the ice and snow pack

Weather forecast

Avalanche Bulletin

Social media platforms

Locals, other climbers, professionals  


Approach conditions

Conditions in-between ice pitches

Snow conditions above the route & out of sight  

Route Choice      

Just because the ice route is there and a track in the snow leads to it doesn’t mean it’s safe to climb today

Ability / difficulties

Time / length of day & route

Aspect - does it get full sun?

Altitude – do you need to climb higher during a very warm forecast?  


Temperature has the biggest effect on the ice

Has it been very warm in the day? Is steep ice saturated, heavy & delaminating?

Has it been very cold? Is steep ice fragile and under a lot of tension?

Are there huge swings in temperature (+10 in the day and -20 at night)? Can steep ice sustain these changes safely?  


What’s happening & are the conditions changing around you?

Is the sun hitting the snow filled bowl above the route?

Is the cross wind loading the gulley or bowl above?

Is heavy snow falling and loading the existing snowpack?

Are other climbers on the same route and could they knock ice down on you?


Climb with partners who take a considered approach to leading and don’t fall off

Listen to each other to how you’re feeling & if it doesn’t ‘feel’ right do something else

Always carry a V-Threader to get off a route  


Weigh up all the hazards

Sometimes the hardest decision is to turn back

Don’t let familiarity of a route or area mean that you miss warning signs and hazards

Weigh up all the hazards

Sometimes the hardest decision is to turn back, don’t let familiarity of a route or area mean that you miss warning signs and hazards  

Remember that the route will still be there another day and the trick is for you to be there too!   


Avalanche Hazards 

The impact of the sun thawing snow on slopes & in drainage bowls above the icefall you’re climbing & naturally releasing, whilst you’re climbing in the shade  


While you’re climbing, the wind can cross load & deposit snow into your gulley. This accumulated snow forms wind slab, which could then naturally release on the ice or be released by you       

The wind moves snow which accumulates forming as wind slab on lee slopes & in bowls  


Heavy snowfall during a day can overload the gulley you’re in, which could then release naturally

New overloading of snow can release naturally from the steep sides of the icefall or drainage line, avalanching into the line you’re climbing  


Water permeating through the snowpack causing a weak layer to release  

Falling Ice

Ice being dislodged from other teams climbing on the same route

The fringes of ice around and above the icefall you’re climbing, releasing naturally during both very warm & very cold temperature cycles  


Plan ahead

Constantly evaluate

Be prepared to turn back if the hazard feels too great

Try not to climb under other teams, climbing the same line

Naomi Lacheronte




Crampons with vertical front points

Curve shafted ice axes

Warm mountain boots


10 x ice screws & quickdraws (minimum)


Abseil cord

Ice screw clipper system

Shell jacket & pants

Good layering system for long hikes

Warm duvet jacket

Spare gloves

Ski poles


Mobile phone or satellite GPS device

Build your icefall climbing experience steadily over time and don’t rush into leading on steep ice until you’re totally ready.
Focus on technique first and gain knowledge through climbing & talking to experienced climbers or professionals.
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