Launch Pads

| February 10, 2012

Ripping skins at the top of a climb is ideally done on a summit or flatish ridge, but it doesn’t always work out that way.  There are a lot of times where I end up stopping on a steep slope next to a cliff or in the middle of a steep pitch to change over from skins to booting or ‘poons, and in those cases, I like to dig what I call a “launch pad.”   In order of importance, launch pads serve three purposes:

  1. Provide a flat, secure spot to sort gear
  2. Dig a quick half-assed snow pit
  3. Stay warm

Forrest Shearer occupies a standard issue launch pad in the Wasatch.

I first got into launch pads after watching a few of my packs and gloves go sliding into oblivion after I accidentally nudged them from their precarious perch at the top of a climb.  Launch pads also take away the anxiety of trying to balance on one foot as you bend over and try to hold onto your ski while gingerly stepping into it, knowing that if you blow it, you’ll go head-first for the maximum tomahawk with one ski on, one off.

A triple-decker in Cardiac Bowl.

As a snowpack assessment technique, sometimes I’ll turn them into full blown snowpits, but most of the time I just use them to double check for any surprise layers.  And last but not least, digging them helps keep your body at skinning/skiing operating temperature so you don’t cool off too much while transitioning.

A double-wide in Antarctica. This was on a 50 degree slope with a knife edge ridge above us leading the end of the earth on the other side. I think everyone who peered over the edge said something along the lines of "Oh My God!"

Digging them is pretty simple – at the end of your skin track, pull out your shovel and cut a step at about waist height and roughly the length of your skis.  From there, dig down until you reach the level of your skin track and then widen it out a bit. If you need a larger one for more people, step down and use your skin track as the starting point for a lower one.  Cut the upper ones first and work your way down.  After the first person gets all organized and ready to climb or ski, they move off of the pad and pass it on to the next in line.
Help support and fire off a launch pad with a Voile Telepro Shovel from Click on the photo below…


Category: 05 Uphill

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 (3)

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  1. Matt says:

    Why didn’t I think of that?

  2. CJ says:

    I learned the joys of the pad while skiing Tuckerman Ravine as a kid. Just remember to fill it in before you go. They are hard to see from above and can become a bomb hole if left. Happy skiing!

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