REI Mountaineering Skills course review

REI Mountaineering Skills

Brazen Review: REI Mountaineering Skills – Snow Travel – Level 1

By Emily Pennington

I’m hurtling headfirst down an icy slope, tips of massive pine trees whizzing past my eyes as I wield my ice axe as hard as I can against the snow. My legs twirl around chaotically until I’m right side up again, digging the tips of my hiking boots hard into the side of the ridge. “STAB THE MOUNTAIN IN THE FACE,” my instructor, Eddy, yells from fifty yards away, and I do. I skid to a stop, my cheeks pink and tingly from their recent caress against the sandpaper that is a frozen peak at dawn. I regain my composure as I stumble to my feet, and I can’t help but pause and stare at the thick spider web of clouds licking the tops of neighboring mountains. I can’t feel my toes, and I’ve got the wildest, grin on my face.

In February, emboldened by all the peaks I couldn’t climb due to snow, ice, and avalanche warnings, I embraced the things I do not know and opted for the REI Mountaineering Skills Level 1 class. I cannot express to you how happy I am that I did. Not only was the class incredibly informative, it also moved at a great pace, was an awesome way to meet like-minded adventurers, and contained huge amounts of fun!

The beginning portion of the day began with a quick tutorial on crampon technique and a brief lecture about snow travel from Nile, a sweet but fierce old-school mountaineer who has 409 peaks under his belt, most notably Denali. The instructors set us loose and had us practice uphill travel with crampons and an ice axe on slick, early morning snow, making sure we were comfortable ascending/descending, turning, and maneuvering the oh-so-sexy duck foot position (pied en canard).

REI Mountaineering Skills 2

The second bit of the day was where things really picked up their pace, as we learned how to properly glissade. For those new to mountaineering, like me, a glissade is when you glide down the side of a peak on a sled made out of your own butt. From a seated glissade, we were taught the technique of how to self-arrest, which is what I was most excited about. Throwing ourselves down the mountain both feet first and head first, the teachers had us quickly roll to one side and shove our ice axes into the frigid slope to stop ourselves before hitting the ground below. One of the things I loved most about the class was that we had ample time to try each thing we learned enough to start to feel comfortable with the skill. By the end of this lesson, I was getting running starts and purposefully switching my hand grip several times to see if I could still screech to a halt in less than ideal conditions.

REI Mountaineering Skills 3

After a quick break for lunch, we broke into groups (I dubbed mine the terrible twos), and got to work on learning snow travel in teams. We sidestepped up the now slushy afternoon snow, carefully following each other’s footprints to the letter. Being headstrong and probably a bit too alpha for my 5’2’’ good, I marched ahead, driving our group up most of the steep bank but quickly learned why it’s great to tackle mountains in teams – you get to switch off on the hard work of leading! Now, for me, the type-a overachiever, this is not an easy lesson to learn, but I’m glad I caught glimpses of it in this class, trading responsibility to let other people kick a staircase into the slush so that I could blissfully follow for a while.

In the squishy, mashed-potato snow of late afternoon, we got to glissade down even longer and steeper slopes after having traversed them in our teams, diligently swapping out the leaders. Because I’m a mad woman who doesn’t know when to stop, I thought this the perfect time to practice self-arrest at higher speeds, and it was inexplicably gratifying to have the opportunity to perfect potentially lifesaving mountain techniques with instructors present. I feel far more confident having had three different, highly-skilled people tell me I’m following the right movement pattern to properly work an ice axe than I would have if some random friend had just taken me up a slope and watched me zip down it a few times. For anyone serious about upping your snow skills and tackling bigger peaks this winter, I highly recommend finding your nearest REI store and asking them about their upcoming mountaineering classes!

Multiple Contributor at | Website

Emily Pennington (also known as the Brazen Backpacker) is an adventurer, solo traveller, mountaineer, quote collector, and all-around lover of things that get people out of their comfort zones.  She lives in Los Angeles, California, USA.

Put on her first international flight at 3 months old, she’s been adventuring in one way or another ever since! From wandering the forests of Sweden alone at the age of nine, taking photos of faeries, to solo trekking in the Himalayas of India, to joining the circus as a professional aerialist, Emily is a big fan of the “just get out there and do it” mentality.

She considers it her mission in life to inspire others to go outside, travel, and get curious about everything. As John Muir aptly put it, “going out is really going in.”

28 thoughts on “REI Mountaineering Skills course review

  • April 19, 2017 at 6:07 pm
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    i love snow travel!! its seems a great experience! i should try it 🙂

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  • April 17, 2017 at 11:52 pm
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    I did not know that there is a Mountaineering Skills – Snow Travel training. I want to participate in this kind of training too. I am also a petite woman but I am ready to take an adventure. It is good that REI will provide some gear.

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:37 pm
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      Yes! That’s one of the best things about it. You can learn without dropping a grand on the initial gear. 🙂

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  • April 16, 2017 at 8:38 pm
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    What a cool experience! I’ve never been mountaineering before, but it’s something I’d love to try. It doesn’t look that hard either, which is good.

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:40 pm
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      I think that “hard” is in the eye of the beholder. The slopes we were on in class were much more mellow than a lot of actual snow climbs up steep, 45-50 degree couloirs would be. It’s a great skill to have – traveling and arresting safely on snow, regardless! 🙂

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  • April 16, 2017 at 2:22 pm
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    I never knew you could do this. Great thing to learn if you want to tackle some of the mountains in winter and in the snow!! I hiked a volcano in Peru and was given crampons and an ice pick, luckily I never made it near the snow line so I didn’t have to use them, I never got given any training and having been back there and hiking it with no snow, I can see how dangerous it could of been with no actual training. Great idea and good luck on those hard snowy climbs in the future!!

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:42 pm
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      Thank you so much! I would definitely recommend taking a class or grabbing a knowledgeable friend to show you proper self-arrest techniques. I have a few friends who have saved their own lives because their ice axe game was on point!

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  • April 16, 2017 at 9:47 am
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    I didn’t realize there was so much technique to mountaineering. I would’ve guessed that it’s definitely not easy, but it’s interesting to learn about the different methods in the class. I’m now very intrigued about mountaineering classes since I’ve wanted to tackle mountains/hikes during winter. It looks like a fun class and I’ll have to check it out. Very informative and great story telling!

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:43 pm
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      Thank you, lovely! That’s how I got started. I was tired of being bummed that everything was snowy in the winter, and now, I have an awesome new hobby!

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  • April 15, 2017 at 7:06 pm
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    It sounds like you signed yourself up for the ultimate adventure. I really admire how you put yourself in a position that was challenging and unfamiliar to you! I need to take this as a lesson and do the same!

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:43 pm
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      I would highly recommend it! The more you get outside your comfort zone, the easier it becomes to try new things that scare you a little bit. 😉

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  • April 15, 2017 at 4:30 pm
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    Fun activity to do with friends and family.. it shows how much you love doing this!

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  • April 15, 2017 at 3:33 pm
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    I dont know how to ski…and I would love to learn it here. The mountaineering class is such an awesome way to make new friends and challenge ones self. Looks like you had loads of fun!

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:47 pm
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      It was a ton of fun. They did not cover backcountry skiing in this particular class, but I’m sure there are places to learn that as well. Might be a good idea to take an avalanche class or 2 if you’re interested in going down that rabbit hole! 🙂

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:47 pm
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      It was a ton of fun! Two weeks later, I went back and summited a 10,000 foot mountain with friends!

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  • April 15, 2017 at 1:19 pm
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    Beautiful photos. Love the snow. Also a good way for family bonding.

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:48 pm
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      Totally. Maybe snowshoeing and sledding for families, instead of strapping knives to your feet, but there are so many great snowsports to go around!

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  • April 15, 2017 at 9:34 am
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    I really liked how you described your impressions in pictures – was almost a fully visual journey to read your post. “Stab the mountain in the face…” haha I must keep this in mind. But it seems you really had a lot of fun there, exactly how hiking in the snowy mountains should be!

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:49 pm
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      hahaha thank you! Yeah, I’ll never forget the intensity with which I need to use my ice axe after having someone shout “Stab the mountain in the face!” at me repeatedly. 😉

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  • April 14, 2017 at 8:57 pm
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    This looks like such a fun way to spend a weekend!! The views look so pretty. Definitely adding this to my bucket list! And you and I sound alike- both 5’2 and type-a!

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    • April 18, 2017 at 11:51 pm
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      Haha yep! 5’2” and always trying to plan and train my way into being better at mountaineering. I think type-a kids make great athletes, though, because we’re so consistent! 😉

      Reply

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