Running On Ice – A Guide

Abelone Lyng using the Artic Talon by inov-8

Depending on where you live, the arrival of Autumn and Winter can put fear in many a runner. Snow and more importantly ice, are not a runner’s friend.

I get no traction cause I’m running on ice

It’s taking me twice as long

I get a bad reaction cause I’m running on ice

Billy Joel – Running On Ice

Imagine a scene, the snow is on the ground, the sky is blue, and you just can’t wait to get out. Within 10-strides you are on your butt… ice was under that wonderful white powder.

However, it doesn’t need to be that way. It’s perfectly safe to run in winter and contrary to what you may think, it’s fun and exciting. Read an article HERE about preparing for winter.

Firstly, snow is fine to run on and in all honesty, a good trail running shoe with a good aggressive outsole will work fine, providing no ice is underneath. Look at shoes that perform well in mud and they will provide great grip in soft snow. Think about how you will keep your feet warm? A Merino sock is essential as they still keep feet warm even when wet. However, if you anticipate feet to be constantly wet, the use of a barrier sock in addition to a Merino sock is a great idea, SealSkinz being a good example. Importantly, take into consideration that your winter shoe may need to be a half size larger to accommodate for extra sock width.

The use of a gaiter is a good idea as this may stop or delay snow going in the shoe around the ankle. As an example, inov-8 produce specific fixture points and gaiters on many of the shoes they make.

Accept that in snow you will move slower and that runs will be more demanding. You naturally get a harder work out, so now is not the time to try speed or intervals.

Fresh snow is great to run on providing it is not too deep. Constantly sinking into deep fresh snow is exhausting, look for footprints or flattened snow, this will make moving easier. If you do wish to run in soft and deep snow, snow shoeing is a great option.

Think about when you run, early morning and evening you run the risk of more ice, then you need to consider the information below. Ice forms around dawn and late evening, when temperatures are typically drop. The ground temperature causes precipitation to freeze, thus creating ice. Of course, some places have permanent ice due to consistent sub-zero temperatures, in many ways, this makes shoe choice easier as you know what to expect. Darkness can make ice and particularly black ice difficult to see, so, be careful. A good headlamp is essential and a waist/ chest lamp in conjunction with a headlamp really makes viewing the ground optimal.

Trail is often better than the road, so if you have the chance, use trails. Trail has a naturally rough surface making traction and the risk of slipping reduced.

Snow running is a little like running in sand. You will use more muscles, get fatigued in a different way, you will use your core more and mentally you will be constantly engaged, it’s difficult to just switch off when snow or ice running.

Needless to say, layer clothing (article HERE) and make sure you use long tights and higher socks. You do not want to get snow burn!

Once snow becomes packed down, hard and frozen, you need to re-think and consider ICE running.

ICE

inov-8 Artic Talon winter shoe has 14 studs for grip.

Have you ever been running, hit some ice and had that feeling of the world going into slow motion? Your core engages, your arms go high, your feet go in different directions and somehow, you stop yourself from falling… Or you hit the deck! It’s an awful feeling and one that stops you in your tracks forcing you to move at a snail pace afterwards. It doesn’t need to be like that though.

You have 3 options when it comes to running outdoors in ice conditions:

  1. You stay inside and do not run opting for treadmill, gym, cross training or other exercise options.
  2. You use your normal run shoes and are prepared with the addition of nano or micro spikes.
  3. You use specific winter shoes with studs OR you add studs to your run shoes. 

Option 1 is easy – a treadmill is safe if not a little boring and yes, cross training is a great addition to any training plan. However, you do not want to be indoors all the time.

Option 2 is a difficult one from the perspective of I would only use nano or micro spikes if I was expecting the road or trails to be mostly runnable BUT there may be a chance of ice. The main reason for this, although these spikes work great, they are not ideal if used for prolonged periods of time as they are not as comfortable. So, these spikes tend to be in my run pack and then used for short periods of time as and when road or trail conditions dictate.

Option 3 is dictated by permanent ice on roads and trails and quite simply it makes shoe choice easy. I personally dislike that transition period hovering around zero when ice may or may not be around. Give me cold temperatures and ice any day over the question mark conditions. With ice everywhere I use specific winter shoes that have studs embedded into the outsole that create grip and provide security. Once you have used a specific shoe like this, you will never go back.

TECHNIQUE

Like anything, you need to learn to run on ice and the biggest tip I can give is, trust the shoe! If you are using a winter shoe with studs or a normal run shoe with nano or micro spikes, accept that it will do the job and trust them!

Body weight and force is a friend with ice. Don’t fear it and hold back, run with force and really plant your foot. Pressure (with body weight) sticks the studs into the ice and that is what gives you the grip.

A shorter stride, firm foot placement and confidence.

If possible, try to land on the middle of the foot, this will allow more of the outsole to have contact with the ground, again, this gives more grip and security.

A shorter stride and higher cadence works in most scenarios and look ahead, typically 2-3 meters and plan a route.

Going uphill the front of the outsole will be used, run strong and forceful. Downhill, trust the shoe and try to place your foot flat optimising the whole of the outsole and its studs and/ or nano/micro spikes.

Accept that ice running is tiring, many consider it to be harder on the body even in comparison to road running.

PRODUCTS TO HELP YOU RUN ON ICE

MINI NANO or MICRO CRAMPONS

Kahtoola Nano Spike ©khatoola

These are low-profile ice spikes (varying sizes and types) which enable you to run or walk on slippery frozen surfaces with confidence. Typically, they have an elastomer harness that stretches over any run shoe and they come in sizes, just like socks.

Kahtoola Nano Spikes offer studs that are very similar to specific winter run shoes like those listed below. They have 6 studs at the front and 4 at the rear. They come in XS, S, M, L and XL. I personally go down one size when using any of the ‘add-on’ spikes as I feel that they are more secure. 

Yak Trax offer several options and the ‘Pro’ is recommended for running as the ice grips have stronger, shaped-edge, coils and a retaining strap which goes over the top of the footwear for extra security.

Nortec are specialists with ‘add-on’ spikes and they have three distinct models. The Corsa is very much like the Khatoola spikes with a 6/4 configuration. The Trail has spikes just at the front and rear and are more aggressive. The Nordic are ideal in more mountain and severe environments when one is encountering Alpine conditions.

Nortec Nordic.

Snowline like Nortec produce many ‘add-on’ crampons, a personal favourite is the Chainsen Pro.

WINTER RUN SHOES

VJ Sport Xante has 5mm lugs and 20 carbon steel studs.

Specific winter run shoes offer the best run, the most secure grip and the most comfortable ride when running on ice. Many brands produce specific shoes as part of their range to offer an excellent winter running experience.

Karin Franck-Nielsen using the Asics Gel-Fujisetsu 3 GTX

Top tips: Low temperatures don’t go well with a narrow-fit shoe so a roomy toe box may be worth considering. Also, ice running is tiring, more cushioning may well prove to be advantageous. Finally, you may wish to wear two pairs of socks and/ or barrier socks, so, keep this in mind, sometimes a half or full size bigger may be a consideration BUT make sure you try the shoes on with the socks you expect to wear.

Read a guide HERE.

Recommendations:

VJ Xante

VJ Sport Xante is a cushioned shoe and very comfortable for longer runs. It has a 10mm drop and medium fit. Cushioning is 10mm/20mm with 5mm lugs and 20 carbon steel studs.

Arctic Talon inov-8

inov-8 Artic Talon has a 4mm drop, 7mm lugs, great cushioning with 17.5mm at the front and 21.5mm at the rear, excellent weight, a more precision fit and 14 studs that are longer than those offered by VJ and Icebug.

Abelone in Artic Talon, Ian in VJ Sport Xante
Newrun by Icebug

Icebug NewRun BUGrip GTX – includes a BOA adjustment which works really well in cold conditions when gloves could hinder adjusting laces, they have 17 steel studs that adapt to the surface, a wider toe box, 7mm drop and good cushioning.

Other recommendations:

Vibram Artic Grip has no studs.

MAKING YOUR OWN ICE SHOES

One option is to make your own winter shoes. Maybe you have a favourite trail or road shoe that you’d like to adapt? I’d recommend that you use a shoe that has seen some use, say 2 to 300-miles. If you were using a new pair of shoes, it would make better sense you purchased a specific shoe as listed above. However, this way you breathe life into a shoe that would soon not be used due to wear.

Purchase Hex Head Screws from a DIY store. Be careful on size, typically 3/8 or 1/4 is best.

Screw the shoes into the outsole of the shoe using an electrical screwdriver, makes things much easier. I suggest you mark the areas with a pen first. Think about foot placement and where you want grip. Ideally 10 at the front and 6-8 at the rear.

Tighten the screw into the outsole until the head is flush with the shoe. The head of the screw provides the traction. Be careful not to screw too far and go through the shoe and into the insole.

Job done.

Elite runner, Jeff Browning wrote and article on this.

Jeff Browning adapted his Altra shoes for ice running. Image ©jeffbrowning

*From experience, I do feel that a hex screw does not give as much grip or confidence as a specific winter stud. Also, you will find that you will need to replace them regularly.

CONCLUSIONS

Snow running is great fun, provides a great workout and provides a great change from your typical Spring and Summer runs.

Ice running is often feared, but if you follow the tips above, there is no need to fear the conditions. If you have a specific product that will provide grip, that can be a Nano Spike, a specific winter run shoe or even a *homemade run shoe, then you can be confident that you will have grip.

Only you know your needs.

If ice running is something you will do only now and again, I recommend using a product like the Khatoola Nano Spike for roads and trails with ice. If heading off-road where ice will be mixed with snow, a more aggressive spike such as those by Nortec or Snowline would be better.

If snow and ice running is going to be a day-to-day occurrence, investing in a specific winter shoe is a great choice. The comfort levels and grip are considerably better.

Have confidence and enjoy the running.

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Mount Toubkal and the Atlas Mountains in Winter

Located just 75-minutes’ drive from Marrakech (approximately 40-miles) the Toubkal National Park and Jebel Toubkal(4167m) is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is also, the highest peak in North Africa and the Arab World.

 Toubkal has two-seasons, Winter and Summer. In winter, summiting the peak brings new challenges as it is completely covered in snow. Winter mountain skills are required, and the use of crampons is essential.

I wrote an in-depth article about visiting Toubkal in summer months HERE and some of the information from that article is repeated below.

PRACTICALITIES

The gateway to Toubkal is Marrakech which is less than a 90-minute journey away from Imlil via taxi or private car. Imlil is the starting point for any adventure in the Atlas Mountains with a small village of restaurants, shops and hotels.

Flights to Marrakech are abundant and many budget airlines offer great prices, particularly if one can travel on a weekday.

If you have not been to Morocco before, I strongly recommend staying in Marrakech for several days before and after any trip to the Atlas. Even now, after multiple trips to the region, I still enjoy a pre/post stay in a Riad (local traditional hotel) to help provide some luxury and RnR either side of a strenuous hiking/ climbing period. There are many Riads in Marrakech all offering something unique and prices vary considerably, my favourite is the Dixneuf La Ksour which has only 6 rooms.

If you have been to the region before and want to maximize time, it is of course possible to land in Marrakech, get a taxi at the airport and be in Imlil within 2-hours. Riads in Imlil are very inexpensive and I have stayed at the ‘Riad Atlas Prestige’ on all my trips – it is inexpensive and offers great food.

A taxi to Imlil will be approximately 40 euro and a private car, usually arranged by your Riad will be 80 euro. 

TOUBKAL and the ATLAS MOUNTAINS

If you have not been to the region before, it would make sense that you visit the area in the non-winter months when hiking/ climbing is much easier and very predictable.

Please note! You now MUST have a guide for any treks/ climbs in the region. This was a rule imposed in late 2018. There are currently three passport checkpoints on the way to the refuge. This in time will change with one new police checkpoint that is currently being constructed just before the entrance to the National Park.

Our guide, Mustafa

The refuge at Toubkal is a great place to plan a booking as you are able to arrange a guide and a bed at the refuge all in one email. Hamid is my contact who is always helpful.

refugetoubkal@gmail.com – Liaise with Hamid.

Refuge Tariffs (Jan 2020):

  • 34.5 euro per person per night full board (Dinner, breakfast and lunch)
  • 29.5 euro per person per night half board (Dinner and breakfast)
  • 19.5 euros per person per night (without meals) 

The refuge can also arrange the following for you:

  • Transport from and back to Marrakech
  • Accommodation in Imlil
  • Mountain Guide 

A guide will be approximately 50-80 euro per day and is payable in Euro (cash only).

CLIMBING and TREKKING

Toubkal is considered an entry level 4000m peak and as such it is a great place for training and gaining experience, particularly in summer.

In winter, it is still considered an entry level 4000m peak, however, far more equipment is required and some exposure to harsh winter environments would be strongly recommended.

In summer one can usually wear shorts and t-shirts during the day but it is essential to have trekking pants, a warm upper layer, waterproof jacket/ trousers, hat and gloves at a minimum for any summit treks. Poles are for many an essential item too!

Winter is completely different, and the environment can be very harsh and dangerous. One needs to be prepared for conditions that can be below -20 with very strong winds, thick snow and a great deal of ice.

At a minimum you will need:

  • Merino base layer, top and bottom.
  • Trekking pants.
  • Mid-layer thermal top.
  • Down or Primaloft upper insulation.
  • Gore-Tex or equivalent out layer, top and bottom.
  • Very warm gloves. Probably with inner Merino layer.
  • Very warm socks, usually two pairs made up from inner Merino and outer mountain sock.
  • Climbing boots suitable for harsh winter than can take a mountain crampon – La Sportiva G5 as an example.
  • Crampons.
  • Ice Axe.
  • Poles.
  • Pack.

Sleeping bag (the refuge is usually quite warm (in the sleeping dorm), so, with a merino base layer, a bag with comfort to -5 should be ok). 

ROUTE TO THE REFUGE

 Imlil to the refuge is designed to introduce you to the terrain and slowly adapt you to the altitude. Imlil is at 1800m and the ‘Les Mouflons’ refuge is at 3207m. Depending on experience and adaptation, Imlil to the refuge can take 3-6 hours.

Leaving Imlil, you have a narrow trail that rises quickly to a road and then the village of Aroumd. Here you will meet the first passport control and then you cross a floodplain before starting the climb to the refuge. The terrain is rocky and rough but not dangerous. Chamharouch is the next passport control and here you will see a large white rock that is a Muslim Shrine. Here it is possible to by water, food if required and soft drinks such as coke.

Depending on the time of year and how harsh the winter has been, snow may already be present on the trail. Usually, just wearing trekking shoes or boots is fine to the refuge, however, it can be possible to need to add crampons in a harsh year, so, make sure they are easily accessible from your pack when you leave Imlil.

Passport check point

The path now climbs steeply and gently reaches upwards, once again the terrain is rocky. You will arrive at two disused building that now sell drinks and here is the 3rd and final passport check. Before you know it, you will arrive at the refuge located at 3207m.

Depending on what you have arranged with your guide, you will have a meal at the refuge and then you will stay in a shared dorm with all the other climbers. These dorms are often unisex, so be prepared. You also need to be self-sufficient in terms of sleeping bag, additional clothes and warm layers. Everyone usually sleeps by 8/9pm. Bring wet wipes/ toilet roll as this is not provided at the Refuge.

Dinner is typically served at 1830 and offers soup, bread, a carb rich main meal with protein, fruit dessert and tea. A shop is available to purchase soft drinks, water, chocolate and other items.

Breakfast is bread, mixed jams/ honey, soft cheese and a selection of drinks. Depending on one’s plans, breakfast is often served from 0400 through to 0900.

Lunch is served on request.

ROUTE OPTIONS

TOUBKAL

The standard Toubkal summit day will typically start at 0400 with breakfast and the intention will be to start the climb asap. Sunrise is approximately 0810 (+/-) in winter, so, depending on your projected speed, the guide will advise on a departure time so you can climb from 3207m to 4167m and arrive at the correct time to experience sunrise.

Note – It is dark for pretty much all the climb and very, very cold. How cold depends on many factors but be prepared! Ambient temperature may be -10 but in the wind chill this can easily be beyond -20.

The trail goes straight up often zig-zagging to ease the gradient. The snow and ice can be unpredictable, and crampons are essential. The use of poles is highly recommended and the carrying an ice axe is in my opinion compulsory. You may very well not need it, but better to have one just in case.

 Once at the saddle, the trail goes left and right. Here you go left for a final push to the summit. On a clear day, the views are magnificent and if you time it correctly, the sunrise can be truly magical. The terrain here is not as steep but depending on route options, it can be a little more technical.

Most arrive at the summit between 0745 and 0900 to experience the winter sunrise. Depending on the day, hanging around is usually not an option; it is too cold. Of course, you may want to take a photo? Be careful! Removing gloves at the summit in -20 is not a good idea. Be sensible.

 Descending becomes easier from an altitude perspective, with every meter you go down, the easier it will become to breathe. Rely on your crampons on the descent, they provide great security and often, depending on conditions, it is possible to take a more direct line. Let the guide dictate, they know all the route options and will keep you safe.

Once back at the refuge, many take a break for lunch and they will look to descend back to Imlil in the afternoon via the exact same route they went up the previous day.

The above scenario is the classic Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil mini-trek that is ideal to do over a weekend, Friday to Sunday or as a mid-week adventure. If possible, I always recommend mid-week, far less people!

FAST OPTION:

If you are experienced or want a challenge. Imlil-Toubkal-Imlil can be done in one day. I have done this twice now, once in Winter and once in Summer. Depending on one’s speed and ability, it is possible to leave Marrakech at 0530, meet a guide at 0700 in Imlil, summit at midday/ early afternoon and then be back in Imlil before dark.

The above is not for everyone, but for me, it was an ideal opportunity to fit an action-packed day between holiday days, before and after in Marrakech.

ALTERNATIVE OPTION:

Once you have summited Toubkal it is possible to take another route down. This is a more challenging descent with some exposure, very lose scree and lots of technical rocks in summer. In winter, you would need an experienced guide who understands the route and weather conditions and you personally would need a greater level of skill. The route rejoins the main trekking path and you then have an option to go left and return to Les Mouflons refuge or go right and return to Imlil. 

OUANOUKRIM ROUTES

Located high above Les Mouflons refuge, Ouanoukrim offers the 2ndTIMZGUIDA’ and the 3rd, ‘RAS’ highest peaks of the Atlas range. These two peaks are often neglected due to Toubkal being the highest peak, but these two are just a fraction lower at 4089m and 4083m and they offer much more challenging and technical climbing.

Leaving Le Mouflons, one heads up the mountain, Toubkal is to the left and you take the valley leading to the peaks ahead. The out and back trek/ climb is longer than Toubkal and the early gradients are less severe. However, as one moves up the climb the terrain becomes increasingly challenging and steeper.

At the saddle, you can decide to go left for RAS or right to TIMZGUIDA. TIMZGUIDA is higher and a more challenging climb that in winter requires more advanced scrambling skills, the need for an ice axe and a level head. It’s a stunning route that is perfectly achievable, even for a novice climber, as long as you have a good guide and the correct equipment.

After several scrambling sections, the mountain opens up with one last scramble to the summit.

The return is via the way you arrived, so, constantly ask yourself on the way up, ‘Am I happy down climbing these sections?’ – It is always easier to climb up than climb down. Exposure to the elements is a factor that you must consider, especially in the final 100-200m where the mountain is exposed. On my most recent trip, we had thick snow which made trekking up and down hard, we had snow flurries, thick mist, fog and very, very cold temperatures.

Of course, it is possible to do RAS and TIMZGUIDA in one day.

OTHER ROUTE OPTIONS

AFELLA 4043m and AKIOUD 4035m are two other route options from the Toubkal refuge.

AFELLA is to the west of the refuge with more complex faces. The majority of the winter lines are on the south face and are accessed by a narrow ravine. The east face requires ice climbing.

AKIOUD is accessed from the south via the ‘Assif ait Maine.’ The climb can take 3 hours based on conditions and it is possible to ski down following a south east direction.

Other route options exist that can be made up of multiple days. 

EQUIPMENT:

As suggested previously, summer on Toubkal and you can get away with standard running apparel with the addition of a warm layer (PrimaLoft or down) and water/wind proof top and bottoms for the climb and summit. Gloves, beanie, buff and so on are also essential.

In winter, you need very specific equipment which I will list below with links. Climbing boots are large and heavy and I strongly suggest you use a much lighter approach shoe or run shoe for the trek from Imlil to refuge and back.

 Base layer:

RAB Forge leggings and top

Mid layer:

RAB Shadow hoody

Insulation:

RAB Xenon Jacket (Stratus insulation) 

Pants:

RAB Torque and Winter Torque

Gloves:

RAB Forge liner glove and RAB Xenon Mitt

Hat:

RAB Shadow Beanie 

Waterproof layer:

inov-8 Stormshell

Shoes:

La Sportiva Mutant (used for Imlil to refuge) 

Boots:

La Sportiva G5 mountaineering boot 

Crampons:

Petzl Irvis Hybrid

Ice axe and Poles:

Petzl Glacier and Black Diamond Distance Z Carbon

For extreme cold:

RAB Neutrino Pro Jacket

RAB Aragon Pants (down)

Sleeping Bag:

RAB Neutrino 600

Other:

Make sure you have good sunglasses and I found goggles essential in winter conditions.

Make sure you apply sun screen.

I recommend you have an emergency tracker, I use a Garmin InReach for all outings. 

TIME OF YEAR:

Summer:

August for me is perfect. Marrakech is hot but has less tourists. Expect 30-40 degrees during the day. Imlil to the refuge, temperatures will be somewhere between 15 degs at 0700 and 30 deg in the afternoon.

Winter:

January through to April provides excellent winter conditions and snow/ ice levels will vary depending the usual weather variations. I have climbed in January and April. January provided more extreme conditions with much colder temperatures. 

RETURNING TO IMLIL

The way to return to Imlil is via the trekking path used when coming out. There is no need or requirement to visit the control points and show your passport.

This January Toubkal and Atlas Mountain trip was undertaken in preparation for a 2020 expedition to Nepal for the ‘Three Summits Expedition‘ – read more HERE

Please support this website. I believe everyone deserves to read quality, independent and factual articles – that’s why this website is open to all. Free press has never been so vital. I hope I can keep providing independent articles with your help. Any contribution, however big or small, is so valuable to help finance regular content. Please support me on Patreon HERE.

Follow on:

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Twitter – @talkultra

facebook.com/iancorlessphotography

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Toubkal, Morocco Jan 21-25, 2020. Mini-Adventure – Anyone want to join me?

Anyone fancy a mini-trip to Morocco, Jan 21 to Jan 25th?
I am happy for 1-3 people join me.
*****
Plan is to climb and summit Mt Toubkal (4167m) three times in three days! Basic experience of snow climbing from 3000m refuge to summit and back. The climb from Imlil (1800m) to the refuge (3100m) is just trekking.
You will need to be self-sufficient (meals at refuge) and you will need good winter climb boots, crampons and ice axe.
*****
Plan:
  • 21st-  Fly to Marrakech and transfer to Imil, overnight Imlil.
  • 22nd – Imlil to summit and back to refuge with overnight at refuge.
  • 23rd – Early summit for sunrise and back to refuge.
  • 24th – Early start, summit, refuge and then return Imlil for overnight stay.
  • 25th – Back to Marrakech and flight back to London.
*****
If you fancy a mini-adventure please use the contact form below.
You can read about Toubkal HERE