As a newish ice climber, I spent the first few years renting ice tools from the local outdoor centre and borrowing tools from friends, acquaintances and whomever was willing to lend me a pair. As I live in Calgary, Alberta, with a large population of ice climbers and a short one hour drive from Canadian Rockies’ ice, I had a good opportunity to climb on a large number of tools before picking a set for the big investment. This allowed me to see the differences between various tools: straight vs. bent shaft, off-set handles, pick weights, pick angle, etc.
When I finally had had enough of borrowing and renting, I had some options to consider. After much deliberation, I chose the Cassin X-All Mountain tools.
General reputation – After asking many more experienced climbers about which tools they would recommend, I was told several stories about broken picks on Nomics and, because of this, many people investing in Cassin X-Dreams instead. These two tools dominate the Alberta market when it comes to hard ice and mixed climbing. Lately, Nomics seem to be in frequent need of repairs or returns, but every person who used Cassin tools loved them and sought them out. Before purchasing new ones, I did look for a used pair but could not find any.
Pick width – If you have never experienced that perfect placement, where you get most of your pick embedded in the ice after just one swing, and it’s solid – you have to try these tools. The “twang” or vibration you feel is like nothing I have ever come across with any other tool. There’s no need to test your tool placement when you can feel and see the entire tool vibrate when you get a solid placement with this narrower pick. The width also makes for less effort and fewer fractures when swinging. This stood out from the very first time I swung the X-All Mountain’s.
Curved shaft and pick angle – Climbing on tools like the Quarks and Vipers requires you to have a swing that does not feel natural. I had to consciously focus on how I swung my tools to get them to stick. On steeper ice this is a huge problem as being able to hook over bulges or swing when you’re pumped is not easy. With the Cassin’s, the combination of the shaft shape and the angle of the pick make swinging similar to using a hammer. This motion is much more efficient and easy to use when hooking. The curved shaft also allows for more clearance from the ice — and as a result, much less knuckle bashing.
Weight – As a female climber I need to work more on swinging. Because I do not work in construction (i.e. use a hammer), play sports where I throw a ball or use an axe very often, my ability to swing — and swing with FORCE — is not the greatest. Furthermore, being right handed means that my coordination with my left is not great. I have repeatedly smashed the knuckles on my left hand into the ice while swinging incorrectly, resulting in significant bruising and swelling. And once you’ve hit your knuckles at the beginning of the season, any sort of small brush against the ice is excruciating. Heavier tools and ones with pick weights (eg. Nomics) make tools top-heavy and harder to control. This makes swinging more difficult when you’re learning to aim and swing correctly while managing the pump in your forearms. The weight of the X-All Mountain tool is more uniform throughout the axe, making it easier to grip and swing than a heavy-headed tool.
Versatility – Have you ever tried climbing grade 2 or 3 with aggressive tools? It’s not fun. Swinging down instead of over your head is cumbersome and trying to pull the tool out after is even more so. The curved shape (instead of bent shape) of the X-All Mountains allows for climbing on easier ice as well as steeper climbs. Though I have climbed my fair share of 5’s on top rope, I am just beginning to lead easier climbs and wanted a tool that would work in a variety of situations. Furthermore, I have found that these tools will work mixed climbing without being a mixed specific tool or having a mixed specific pick. This was a big factor in choosing the X-All Mountain vs. the X-Dream. The X-Dream are very nice to climb with, but were a bit too aggressive to learn to lead easy ice with. Lastly, the shape of the handle and spike at the bottom of the X-All Mountain makes using it on the approach slopes easy to penetrate snow like with a mountaineering axe.
Cost – The mid-range cost of the X-All Mountain is a bit less daunting than, say, the X-Dreams or Nomics. At just $229 (Canadian) per tool, a pair of Nomics would be $210 more, and a pair of X-Dreams would be $120 more. The X-All Mountain is a much more attractive option when purchasing your first set of tools.
So, a good reputation, narrower pick width, curved shape of the shaft, angle of the pick, lighter and more uniform weight of the tool, versatility of what’s climbable with them, and lower cost are the major details that formed my decision to purchase the Cassin X-All Mountain tools.
Now, not everything is perfect, here’s the other side…
Cons – The X-All Mountain has only one pick available for it, and it is only B-rated. This means that when I begin leading steeper ice and become more accomplished on mixed routes….I will probably buy a set of X-Dreams (as they are more aggressive and have three different picks [ice, mixed and competition] available).