Winter Skills Top Tip Number 2

Posted on 15 January, 2019

boot-axe-belay-winter-skills-courses-scotland-lake-district.jpgThe New Zealand Boot-Axe Belay (footbrake) is one of a number of skills covered on our winter skills courses. Also a winter mountaineering Skill, the Boot Axe Belay is one which many of our competitors won't show you on a Winter Skills Course.

  • When to use it

When wishing to safeguard another person who is descending a steep slope of hard snow/Neve or descending through a cornice in a situation where a slip could turn into something more serious. This belay must only be used in hard snow/Neve from where it gets most of it's integrity!

  • How to do it

You'll need to cut out a level platform in hard snow (Neve) across the slope and the snow ideally needs to be deep enough to allow your ice axe shaft to be inserted vertically to the point where ideally, only 4 - 6 inches of shaft plus the axe head are protuding from the snow - the further you can get it in the better but the axe head must not go below the level of your boot. Your boot goes directly in front of your axe and the live rope (the one to which the second is attached) is run over the front of your boot, round the back of your axe; and then across the front of your ankle. The dead rope is controlled from behind your ankle and you need to crouch down in order to control this belay.

Make sure that the belay is set up far enough away from the slope on which you need to protect the person being lowered. They must be on safe ground and be properly "secured" by the belay before they move on to the more serious terrain.

  • How does it work?

The boot axe belay works through the security of the vertical ice axe buried in Neve snow. The surface area of the axe's shaft spreads the weight of the person on the rope to the hard snow creating the anchor. The persons weight, transmitted to the boot in front of the ice axe resists the sideways pull on that portion of the axe shaft above the snow. The control comes from the friction of the rope over the front of the boot and around the ankle and then from the controlling hand holding the dead rope behind the heel as low to the snow as possible.

Pros. Quick and easy to set up when there is good hard Neve available; and not much else available to use as a belay. Can be used in shallow snowpack. Crouching down makes this a more secure belay in windy conditions.

Cons. Requires a reasonable depth of hard snow ice (Neve) to be an effective method of belay. The further the axe shaft goes in, the more secure the belay. Is effective for lowering/paying out rope, is inadvisable for use as a means of belaying a person up slope/taking in the rope.

Want to learn more? Then book on to one of our Winter Skills Courses! Dates & venues here.


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