A Frame vs. Diagonal Ski Carry

| December 17, 2010

Few topics get the fur flying among backcountry skiers more than discussing the merits of A-frame vs. diagonal ski carrying modes on backpacks. Blood will be spilled.

A-Frame Fred fiddling on Foraker.

I’m solidly in the A-Frame camp, but will occasionally go diagonal, especially if that’s the only option a pack has.  I like A-Framing as it keeps the ski tails high, away from your calves, ties the whole ski & pack combo together in a tight bundle and most importantly, keeps the weight of your skis/binders/skins close to your center of gravity instead of yawing off of the back of your pack.

A-Framing keeps the weight close to your center of gravity and the tails away from your calves.

The main objection to A-Framing is that it takes longer and requires a ski strap to tie your tips together.  In regards to taking longer, practice makes perfect.  Before I saw my first Calf Roping at a rodeo, I was guessing a fast time would be somewhere around 60 seconds (it would take me a matter of hours), and was blown away that the top riders can do it in way under 10 seconds, which is about how long it take me to set up an A-Frame carry. Thunk, thunk – tails in the loops, clip, clip – secure the top straps, zip – on goes the ski strap and you are off.  For any booting session over about five minutes  the lost time is more than made up for in increased uphill speed.

The advantage of diagonaling is that it is quicker to set up. Skis together, drop the tails in the loop, clip the top strap and off you go.  To me, the disadvantage is that the skis tend to flop around more and the center of weight is further off your back, especially if you have a big, full pack.

Ian "Akkabar" Reid using a quick-load diagonal backpack.

Yes, all of the Ski Mountaineering Racers use the diagonal set-up, but their packs are almost empty and the tricked-out race packs have a system where you can get your skis on/off of the pack without ever taking it off, or even stopping.  In the case of racing, every second counts, but for general touring, if you have to take your pack off, you just negated 99% of the diagonal carry advantage.

The second worst way to carry skis - vertical on the back of a pack. This is only topped by horizontal on the back of a pack - pure misery.

Help support StraightChuter.com and get yer diagonal carry on with a Dynafit RC 20 Backpack from Backcountry.com. Click on the photo below…


Category: 02 Gear

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (19)

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  1. Andy says:

    You should check out the Dynafit packs that don’t require one to even take the pack off to attach skis. For multiple transitions, it’s by far the fastest. And, with light skis, the combo is awesome.

  2. Andrew says:

    Hi Andy – I think the pack you are talking about is the black one in the 3rd photo and also the featured pack at the bottom of the page. It is a cool pack.

  3. Polly says:

    I have found that I can do the A-frame without a ski strap when I’m being lazy or don’t have a strap. Skis are a little more floppy but otherwise it works just fine.

  4. Andy_L says:

    I feel you have not adequately stressed the full evils of the cult of the diagonal carry. However, I will continue my guarded monitoring of this site…for now…

  5. mike moulton says:

    I like the pirate carry…skis through the belt, poles between my teeth.

  6. Bob says:

    As an unremitting proponent of the A-frame carry, I foresee issues in the future for me with A-frame on airbag packs. That pirate carry looks promising though.

  7. cgd says:

    some of the cool kids now just tow their skis up behind them

  8. Wick says:

    Time and a place for everything…including pirate carries and steep skin tracks

  9. Tyler says:

    cgd, those cool kids ought to tow their pants up too … at least to some place resembling a waistline.

    You made me laugh.

  10. brody says:

    2 issues I’ve found: (on the BD Anarchist, at least), the a-frame (which I use) makes it impossible to get into the pack. So when the time comes for fresh gloves or to shed a layer, you must remove the skis to get into the top (as the side entry is also blocked), this is super burdensome, I’d say.
    Because of that, I would totally go with diagonal it it wasn’t so painfully (to my shoulders and hips) unbalanced.
    I’d say this is most important to those of us using fat skis and not ultralight setups. The diagonal carry is horribly painful, regardless of pack support, in my opinion, with a heavier setup.

  11. mark says:

    Funny, I prefer diagonal for precisely the reason you prefer a-fram: whenever I have carried mine a-frame, the tails have dug into my calves relentlessly. Hasn’t been an issue with diagonal. But I only strap skis to pack maybe twice a year.

  12. Ian Havlick says:

    wind speed can usually decide which way i carry em…A frames (ive found) tend to be more sail-like, and throw me around, whereas the diagonal could have the advantage. other-wise…its always the A.

  13. Ralph S. says:

    Diagonal is nice when you are looking up a lot in a steep coolie. It also seems easier to rig than the A-frame. That’s even without using the Evo style attachment (which I’ve never used).

    The air-bag issue is something. It would kind of be like the passenger with their feet up on the dash when the car rear-ended another car. From inflexible to worthy of Peter North’s girlfriend in a split second…

    As a side note, I like Fred’s choice in ski! I just got a pair of them at “discount”… Instead of the “Backlash”, I’ve been calling mine the “Backoutathetrash”.

  14. TG says:

    so is the last photo of “pure misery” the float 30? is vertical the only option? is that sentiment indicative of your overall review of the pack?

  15. ptor says:

    for bushwhacking alders and devils club, none of the above are usefull. It needs to be the waist mounted, forward pointing, horizontal a-frame. Therefore I say that the best method … depends.
    generally the diagonal method is not ideal since the straps on packs are generally set up for carrying on one side or the other. This can be a real bitch when rapelling and the skis point the wrong direction with no other options.

  16. Andrew says:

    TG – That is the Float 30 pack, but that is hardly my overall sediment on that pack, which I like quite a bit. I’ve been skiing with it 10 or so times this season and will be reviewing it in detail later on. The ski carry system on it leaves something to be desired, but is far from a deal breaker.

  17. Gavin says:

    Along the lines of this discussion I’m curious about peoples preference for carrying an axe: 1. adze/pick up & spike down OR 2. adze/pick down & spike up.

    Due to the options on my packs in the past I’ve typically used option 2 above. However, I’ve always been a little weary of having the spike up pointing at the back of my cranium in the unfortunate situation of taking a tumble on a descent.

    If possible, it seems like a sleeve that an axe slid into on the outside of the pack resulting in spike down (option 1 above) would be safer?

  18. Andrew says:

    Hi Gavin – The main concerns for me when carrying an axe is that it is secure and easily accessible. On traditional packs, I like being able to reach back and pop a fastex buckle on the top, which allows the axe spike to drop down, where the axe can then be pulled out of an axe loop with one hand, and, without taking your pack off. I also like the Euro style of carrying an axe point down, but am not a fan of doing so by just sliding it between your back and the pack. Some packs (Dynafit) have loops/pockets for this, which is a nice feature.

  19. hillbilly345 says:

    I’ve found once it gets steep enough to need to swing tools the A-Frame gets in the way of looking up to spot your sticks. For these times, I’ve found the “Radio Antenna” carry to work well – both skis together vertically on one side of the pack, strapped down tight. Keeps your head moving freely and (usually) doesn’t interfere with swinging. I expect it would put one miserably off balance with heavy skis though.

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