Learn Mountaineering Skills

By Mike Boisvert.

American Alpine Institute

How long does it take to learn moutaineering skills to at least become part of a guided trip to Denali? Four days, if you're on AAI's Winter Comprehensive Denali Prep program held in the Eastern Sierras, California or San Juans, Colorado. The country's most respected mountaineering company helps backpackers and mountaineers with little or no winter experience become well versed in a complete repertoire of winter backcountry and climbing skills and prepared to apply those skills in an expeditionary context, such as on Denali. Winter mountaineering encompasses one of the most aesthetic and rewarding aspects of the varied sport of climbing. Like all forms of the sport, winter mountaineering has as much to do with mental challenge as it does with physical endurance and the successful application of technical skills. They cover the challenges of cold weather camping; the complexity of backcountry travel (including both route finding and hazard evaluation); winter climbing, protective systems, and rope handling skills; and either snowshoeing or skiing technique. Upon completion of this program, you should be capable of gaining safe access to the backcountry and high alpine peaks, and you should be able to camp and climb comfortably in a variety of conditions. The training should allow you to become a proficient rope team member, capable of making alpine ascents of intermediate technical difficulty. The curriculum is also designed to prepare you for Arctic climbing as well as non-Arctic high altitude climbing which commonly involves winter-like conditions. (December-March; $660 for four days, includes the use of group climbing equipment, www.aai.cc/default.asp.)

Alpine Ascents

The Denali Prep/Winter Mountaineering Course is specifically designed for those who want to embrace the challenges of climbing Denali and developing extreme winter mountaineering skills. Throughout this extremely rigorous course, you will encounter numerous challenges (closely matching those found on Denali and other similar "big" mountains) in an effort to develop highly aware, knowledgeable and competent expedition climbers. The course takes place in Washington's Cascades Range.(March-April; $1500 for six days, includes the use of group climbing equipment and meals while on the course, www.alpineascents.com)

International Mountain Climbing School

A basic course in New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley. Efficiently climbing moderate snow and ice terrain along with lightweight and low impact winter camping skills is the focus of this popular three-day course. (December-March; $400 for three days, includes the use of group climbing equipment and meals while on the course, http://www.ime-usa.com/imcs/index.html)

Exum Mountain Guides

The Top Gun of climbing schools - it has employed such greats as Pete Athans and David Breashears. Their Basic and Advanced Snow School is conducted in Cody Bowl, which we access via the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram at Teton Village. You will learn the absolute essentials of moving over steep snow. (May-July; $140 for each course: basic and advanced; two days, includes the use of group climbing equipment, www.exumguides.com)

Berg Adventures International

Their Expedition Training Program is specifically designed for those who want to participate in or lead an expedition. The goal is to develop skills to be able to handle the challenges of alpine terrain and learn to be aware of mountains hazards in the Selkirks Range of Alberta and British Columbia. (July; $1800 US for eight days includes the use of group climbing equipment and meals, http://www.bergadventures.com/welcome_1024.html)

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