1. Only use half ropes (7.5mm – 9mm) unless you’re confident you won’t take pissers! Skinny ropes have many advantages for winter climbing, most importantly of all their low impact force. Having two ropes at hand (rather than carrying a rap line), allows fast retreats, safeguarded down climbs (one rope clipped to a high runner, while the other is taken in), and provides a back up if one rope becomes damaged or even chopped (eeek!). The low impact force will greatly increase your marginal protection’s chances of holding…and that includes belays!
Never be tempted to clip both strands of a double rope system (8mm-9mm) into a screw’s extender (well unless you’re German), as this technique is only for dedicated twin ropes (twins are best for routes where there is little chance of falling), as this will probably apply a greater load then clipping with a chunky single rope.
2.Remember that the more rope you have out the less impact force on the screw, meaning using long screws with screamers low down on a pitch, a shorter screws higher up. It’s vital that you understand impact forces, falls factors and what they mean to you the leader before going winter climbing. If you have a mixed bag of screws, with some being faster to place than others, try and save your best screws for the steepest parts of the pitch.
3. Use screamer/ripper slings, they DO make a difference, both actual and psychological. Last year Paul Ramsden took a huge fall while in Norway while climbing over a huge over handing ice feature. The only screw he had in was extended with a screamer, the fall ripping 90% of the stitches before it stopped, extending the impact force over a longer period, thereby keeping the peak impact force low enough fort the screw to hold. Unfortunately for Paul he crashed into the ice headfirst, splitting his helmet in half. He walked away unscaved, so add ‘wear a good helmet’ as item 3.1!
4. Understand what makes good ice and bad ice. Temperature plays a big part, and ice tends to be at its best between 0 and -5 C. Above this you will get surface thawing which will reduce the screws strength considerably, were as colder temperatures will make the ice far more brittle and fragile. As a rule of thumb for ice climbing (this is ice remember not neve), it’s best to climb in temperatures between this range anyway, as both gear and the climbing itself will be more secure.
5. This isn’t the 70’s, get into the habit of placing lots of screws, aiming for one every 20 to 30 feet on hard ice. Invest in good quality screws and learn to place them in the blink of an eye.