The art of step cutting is a bit of a lost art. We tend to put on crampons most of the time, instead of cutting steps. However, sometimes it’s easier to cut steps than to put on crampons. A really good example of  this is when you’re in soft snow on a glacier, and you come to a few feet of ice. It doesn’t make sense to put on crampons for that…

In this video, the art of step cutting is discussed at length.

I have personally made a couple of bad decisions when it comes to step cutting. I’ve cut steps when it seemed like that would be faster than putting on crampons, but in the end it wasn’t. I’ve also cut steps when I didn’t have crampons with me, when I should have had them. 

The decision as to when to cut steps is strategic. We should cut them when it makes sense, it seems faster, and it doesn’t significantly increase the hazard…

–Jason D. Martin