Ice axe skills - how to learn self arrest (and should you learn anything else)?


Active Member
Staff member
I've been thinking about an ice axe and have seen several references to self arrest.

Any advice on a safe way to learn how to self arrest and any other axe skills that might come in handy?
For what it's worth I am self-taught, or strictly speaking, learnt it from a book: the rather wonderful book "Climbing Ice" by Yvon Chounard. (founder of Patagonia gear as well as being an noted mountaineer)

Quite a funny anecdote was me and a mate on Helvellyn one winter when I showed him how to ice axe brake. A year or so later he asked where I'd learnt and was shocked when I said I'd learnt it from a book, and had never actually done it before that occasion !

I dare say being taught by someone who actually knows what to do is better, but Chounard's written explanation worked for me


Regular Member
A peninsula
It's a useful skill, which I think you can teach yourself provided you find a suitable slope. I taught myself the basics but I did learn a lot more on an Alpine training Course at Glenmore lodge. By the end of that day I could fall backwards wearing crampons and right myself and arrest within a few metres. They also taught us to arrest at speed without the pick being torn out your hands which I once witnessed.

If you're going to carry an ice axe it's as well to know how to use it beyond leaning on it as a walking pole, arrest, step cutting, shelter building with it and even carrying it properly so it's accessible when you need it.


New Member
East Yorkshire
If winter walking I always carry my ice axe and crampons. I particularly like to go up Helvelyn in the winter, a great walk any time but even more magical in winter, I am yet to see the tarn frozen, which would make a great photo.

I would recommend, always get to learn how to use them properly first, and would say getting trained on a course, is much better than a book, and then practice what you have learned/been taught, so you don't deskill in it. You never know when it might come in handy. There are many advantages of a course, apart from having your technique criticised and fine tuned, on the 2 day course I went on which was held in Aviemore, we were taught how to read the snow, dangers of drifts caused by wind and how to make a snow hole. Plus it was a fun experience with like minded people.
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