A Much Better Looking Date: The New Petzl Nomic

If you haven’t been to Hyalite Canyon, Montana, I can recommend it strongly.  If you have, likely you are nodding your head.  It is gorgeous terrain: Tall pines, black rock with orange lichen and beautiful frozen waterfalls, mixed and alpine terrain.  The Bozeman Ice Festival took place at Hyalite Canyon last weekend.  I had the great privilege of being on hand to teach advanced womens’ ice clinics with Caroline George, Sarah Hueniken, Audrey Gariepy, Majka Burhardt, and Emily Stiffler.

The prodigious climbing community of Bozeman has worked hard to secure winter access by working with local agencies from the Gallatin National Forest on through to provide a very buffed out (plowed) and well maintained road.  Tip of the hat to hyalite.org and the Montana Alpine Guides.

This past weekend was also my maiden voyage with the new Petzl Nomics.  It’s lucky I made it home with them still in my possession.  Turns out they are a ridiculously coveted item, and for good reason. The hype is well warranted, but more on that in a minute.

Bear in mind I am an avowed gear-head. I may prefer “enthusiast” or “athlete,” and I refer to myself as a “guide” but whatever you want to call it.  If it helps me climb better or harder, I am owning it. Done.

My first pair of ice climbing tools were Simond Chacals.  So I’m old, but not THAT old.  I had Footfangs after all, not those crazy strap on things, and I never had to cut steps.  Though I have done so a few times just to remind myself that it sucks and those people who did it daily were nuts and frigging strong. God bless them, the venerated pioneers of our sport…

The maiden voyage with a new tool is usually something I like to savor a bit.  Swing it into the ice, contemplate its formal design, its essential nature, its behavior under stress.  My thoughts and impressions take shape and I classify where it fits into my life:  Alpine, technical waterfall or mixed-mostly rock climbs with a blob of ice here and there.  Friend or foe, or something that makes me better – I’m looking for more of the latter.

This weekend’s outing, picture me with the new Nomics strapped to my pack.  “Oh, excuse me, I just have to ask…” this begins to feel very flattering, and then they finish: “if those r-e-a-l-l-y are THE NEW Nomics?”

I felt like I was accompanying a much more interesting and better looking date. And I was.

I’m not going to say if I slept with my new Nomics or not, I’m not a kiss and tell sort of personality.  I will just say we enjoyed each other.  Heartily.

The new Petzl tools have been highly anticipated, and with good reason, it turns out.

Although I have a pair, I used the Nomics without the hammer heads this weekend.  I got on some steep ice and some pure dry tooling routes so I reckoned I wouldn’t need to pound a pin.  I’m training to compete in the Ouray mixed competition and this is the configuration I will run there, that is: Hammerless.

I was super pleased that the new Nomic design incorporated teeth at the end of the shaft so that when you are topping out over the “knuckle” of the climb (that last steep bulge where you use your tools on lower angled terrain) you can use your tool in a walking stance for balance and security.  This is a good evolution for the Nomic in both steep ice and alpine capacity.

The angles of the Nomic are perhaps the bulk of the genius to me.  The swing weight, the way it feels in your hand, how handily it yields to your fine motor control and dexterity.  These belong on the wall at MoMa.  They are a delight to hold, and are even better to swing or reef on.

In specific:  Usually, having a tool that performs well on both drytooling terrain AND ice forces a compromise in one or the other direction. Most premier tools which have the capability to excel drytooling on rock disappoint when you swing them into the ice.  They actually create a sensation of “bounce” off the ice – humbling and maddening and ultimately pumping!  This is fixable if you invest a great deal of time and know-how into “hot rodding” the picks.  But what you end up  with is often still not as viable on ice as rock.

Not so with the Nomic.  My experience is that they come out of the box ready to perform well in every arena.  This is unique among top-end tools, but so….well, it’s just “so Petzl”.  These people must eat, sleep, and breathe climbing.  The engineers seem to always have an eye for simplifying and elevating our use of equipment.

With the new Nomic in specific:  I think this has to do with the attention paid to the vectors and angles of the head, shaft and grip.  It is precise, but it seems to work for a wide variety of styles and capacities.

I know this because – turning over a new leaf, I suppose – I decided not to hoard them to myself, and to share these new Nomics with my partners at large.  In fact, my clients at the Bozeman seminar were the first humans to swing and set this particular set of tools.

These were advanced and intermediate ice climbers, good athletes in general.  Some had led, all were interested in leading more efficiently and with less stress. I love this demographic – what’s not to love? These are real climbers who have enough experience under their belt to understand ice climbing, manage objective difficulties – like cold, sometimes cumbersome systems, whether clothing or gear -and manage the hazards and risks of the sport.  In short, they are not whiners, they are keen!

Still, they are a disparate group with all sorts of habits and tendencies.  They were, like me, unanimous in the appraisal of the new Petzl Nomics.  They work.  Well.  I think they make all climbers better climbers.

An example: I had a client who believed she had a “weaker left side.”  This is a common and rarely accurate belief.  We do all have a dominant side, and almost all of us have experienced that “slapping with a dead salmon” sensation with our ice tool going sideways rather than straight into the ice which seems at the time, to confirm it.

But, in my experience, it is almost always it is a confidence/coordination issue, not simply a strength issue (of course the two are related.)  Rather than talk her down from her belief I handed her tools to MAKE her believe: “Here, try these.  They WANT to go into the ice, fast and true.”  Sure enough she believed.  Thirty feet off the ground, making nothing but dead-eye one-sticks with either arm she hollers:  “How much are these? I need them!”  Ah, I thought, I like her, I get her, she’s on it….

The grips are a part of the brilliant design, and that’s where it’s at with these Nomics.  The grips are secure, the shaft still narrow enough for middle sized and small paws not to get the extra pump having to hold too much volume.  You can easily close your fingers around the shaft and hold on.  And more importantly during the strike phase, you can steer the tool more accurately!

The base brackets of each grip are comfortable and efficient.  Particularly appreciated is the adjustability of the bottom-most grip.  It has 3 settings: S, M, and L.  As a 5’6” women with smallish hands the S is perfect for me with all variations of gloves, from bulky, cold weather to mixed, tight fitting gloves.  It also deters my partners from ‘borrowing’ my tools for long when their hands are larger.  Er, that is unless they have a simple allen wrench in their pocket, the grips are easily adjusted in just a few seconds…

Finally, the tape which comes standard on the Petzl Nomics should be available over the counter.  I don’t know if it is, but Petzl would sell yards of the stuff, I’d think. [PEMBA’s note: That tape IS available. Check it!] It’s sticky!  The new Nomics come buffed out in every dimension.  This small but crucial detail, critical to maintaining control when striking the ice or levering the tool on rock is totally appreciated.

I used the new Nomics on two new lines, just bolted last month by Conrad Anker.  Just right of the area known as G1, or Genesis, these overhanging routes are pure drytooling.  Not a speck of ice anywhere.  Just this crazy, sort of cobbled, sort of kitty litter, and sort of Eldorado angled black rock.  The new Nomics didn’t feel like they had a lot of play in the attachment of the pick to the shaft, which is awesome!  You want your tool to feel solid, firm, and responsive under hand.  You want to feel like once you set it you could swing from it like a dang monkey bar on the playground without any sort of “twang.”  And that’s what you get.  Again, the grips, the diameter of the shaft and the sticky tape which envelops it are much appreciated.

Oh, yes, two more hot tips in closing, now that you know the best tools, put them to best use:  These happen to be two super smart guys and pioneers in their respective fields:

  • Will Gadd has recently posted two fantastic video snippets on his blog worth checking out.  The first demonstrates the difference between the swing phase and the holding-on phase on a leashless tool, and also the movement back and forth between these phases.  The second is a primer on the kicking, squat-thrust, stand movement so key to efficient ice climbing movement.  Even if you are a veteran climber, these visuals help remind you of the best technique that lives within your experienced bones.
  • Also: Check out mountainathlete.com, Rob Shaul’s operation.  His gym and paradigm-breaking training methods were recently highlighted in Men’s Journal.  Mountain Athlete climbing training programs are available online – or better still, c’mon out to the Tetons!  We could use some more good energy training for this silly sport!  Yeeha!

Are you psyched?  Me too!  My palms are sweaty just thinking about what’s next!  See you out there!  Remember what Alex Lowe always said:  “The best climber is the one having the most fun!”  Amen! Let’s get after it! Giv’er!


Mattie Sheafor lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with her sons Alex and Lucas. Mattie has guided for Exum Mountain Guides, Chicks With Picks, and Chicks Rock. She was also the founder of Women That Rock, and an ongoing Mountain Athlete. For twenty years, Mattie was a buyer and manager at Teton Mountaineering, and is now pursuing a career in education. This is her second guest post for us, having earlier this year written about her new life of freedom and intention.

All photos courtesy of Mattie Sheafor: Mattie Sheafor Collection.

One response to “A Much Better Looking Date: The New Petzl Nomic

  1. This review makes me want my own Nomics right away! — PS : I know Mattie and I know she knows what she’s talking about so this is high praise for the new Nomic. I recently learned the Petzl company itself is having trouble keeping up with the demand for this popular, cool new ice tool!