This past winter I tested a pair of Petzl Sum’Tec axes. This is a unique solution that splits the difference between a mountaineering axe and a technical ice tool.
I’ve had a traditional piolet for years and used it for most of my ski mountaineering. Often, if the snow is hard enough for a more substantial tool, the skiing isn’t going to be ideal. However, a few times over the years I’ve used more technical tools for a ski mountaineering climbs. Having a heavier, powerful pick is sometimes confidence inspiring.
There are two standard CEN classes of ice axes: B, the lighter weight mountaineering axes, and T, heavier, stronger ice tools. Sum’Tec is somewhat unique in that it has a B rated pick, and a T rated shaft. The combination creates a lightweight, fairly technical tool. Sum’Tec comes in both a adze and a hammer version, and several different lengths. I got one each in the 52 cm length.
Of course, lots of ice tools have powerful picks similar to the Sum’Tec, but the real benefit is the smooth shaft similar to a standard mountaineering axe. Most technical tools aren’t ideal for ski mountaineering since the burly handle means you can’t effectively plunge the shaft in softer snow conditions. Most of my climbs are on soft snow, so the ability to self-belay via plunging is extremely important to me. Although the Sum’Tec has a smooth, simple shaft, it features the Trigrest finger rest, which can be slid down to be a hand rest, or slid up and out of the way. The Trigrest has proven to be a neat feature, enabling use of the axe without a leash.
I’ve been using the Sum’Tec for a few months now on several ski mountaineering trips including my spring break trip to Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. I’ve used it in a variety of snow conditions from pow to frozen corn.
So far the tools have performed excellently. They are nice and secure, and the Trigrest is an easy to use, simple solution. It can be slid to the top of the axe for self-belay, and easily moved to the bottom for steeper terrain or harder snow. I have experienced some slippage of the Trigrest grip. It seems to need to be adjusted precisely to work correctly. Luckily the spike of the axe prevents it from coming completely off; it can only slide to the bottom of the shaft. On many trips I still opt for a lighter axe or just a whippet, since the Sum’Tecs are fairly heavy, at 485 grams (495 for the adze).
The Sum’Tec nicely fills the need for a technical ski mountaineering axe. It’s technical enough to get through most anything a ski trip might involve, but also suitable for standard snow climbing. The combo of a heavy, sharp pick, and traditional, smooth lower is key.
Sum-Tec ice axe available here.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.