At times when you want to do a ski cut, but there is no island of safety to ski to, a belayed ski cut comes in handy. Prime candidates for belayed ski cuts are narrow, steep couloirs with no hiding spots, or the opposite end of the spectrum, wide open faces.
For this type of ropework, simplicity and expediency is desirable as if you get too complex and time consuming, you might decide that it’s not worth going to the effort of pulling out the rope, and thus skip it. For this reason, I keep ski cutting belays as basic as possible – skip the harness and tie the rope directly around the cuttee’s waist, and then use a hip belay from above. Total ingredients – one rope and about 60 seconds.
The idea with a belay is to help pull the skier off the slab when and if it breaks. Hopefully it will break either right at his feet, or just above him, so the pressures of arresting the skier will not be that great (compared to arresting a belayed rock climbing fall).
For almost any type of belayed skiing, a hip belay works well as it allows the belayer to pay out rope quickly and smoothly. My technique of choice is to not have the belayer tie-in, but instead to leave the end of the rope free, so that when the person is done with the ski cut and the rope is all paid out, the belayer lets go of the rope and the skier goes down with it trailing. This serves two purposes; first, it acts as an old school avalanche cord which may help if the skier is caught and buried in a slide, and second, once the first person gets to a safe spot, he can coil the rope while the next person skis down, so there is no wasted time.
For a general purpose belay/mini rappel/day ski touring rope, I use a 50-100′ length of 8mm accessory cord. It is not the strongest rope in the world, but it is compact, cheap and readily available. Bigger, beefier ropes are better, but if the bulk keeps you from carrying them, then what is the point?
Category: 07 Avalanche Avoidance