The Five Winter Essentials

So what’s the point of giving a great tip at the end of winter? Because now is when everything is on sale!  Go stock up your winter kit for next year with some stylish new equipment!  So, you know three of the essentials.  What are the other two you ask?  Good question and keep reading to find out.  The days are now getting longer, the snow is becoming more stable, and the ski lines are getting steeper!  Winter is leaving us, but avalanche season is not over yet.  However you travel in the backcountry; skis, split board, snowshoes,  or snowmobile, avalanches affect us all and there is certain equipment that you should always carry.  However, with proper terrain selection and travel techniques, most of these items can stay in our packs!

1. Avalanche Beacon: This might seam like a no-brainer, but one might be surprised at the vast numbers of backcountry recreationalists that do not carry one or use it properly.  To begin, your beacon should be at least a two antenna if not three antenna digital beacons.  Save that old analog beacon your friend gave you for beacon practice drills.  The new digital beacons on the market are faster, more efficient, and more user friendly than ever before.  The BCA Tracker 3 Beacon is by far the fastest and simplest one currently on the market.  Beacons might seem pricy in the store, however the one time you need it you and your buried friend will be more than happy you spent the money.  That being said, the Tracker 2 is not only the simplest beacon on the market, it’s one of the less expensive ones too!  SCORE!!  The simple switch from transmit to search mode can be is easy to use with gloves on and the digital display works well even with polarized glasses on, a problem with some beacons that have an LCD display.  Despite what some people might argue, these new digital multi-antenna beacons will help you find your friends faster.  This digital beacon needs to be worn against your chest on top of your first base layer.  This makes changing layers during the day easier and helps protect the fragile beacon in the event that you are buried.  Most digital beacons on the market today are leaps and bounds above the old beacons

2. Avalanche Probe: Along with your beacon, a dedicated avalanche probe is a must.  Without a probe you will be able to get very close to the buried victim but not be able to pin point them.  To dig up a typical avalanche victim 1-1.5 tons of snow must be moved.  This is the equivalent of shoveling a sidewalk that is a city block long ft long and buried under a foot of snow!  That means if you were not able to pinpoint the victim you might be three or four feet off.  This could add an extra .5 ton or more of snow to your digging process.  The probe should be a dedicated probe, not a ski pole conversion.  Dedicated probes assemble faster and work better than ski pole probes.  The average burial depth is about 1.5 meters so get a probe that is 2.5-3 meters long.  The BCA Stealth Carbon 260 probe is our favorite.  It is extremely light, yet also durable.  The numbered markings on the side help in taking snow measurements and in snow pits.  The Quick Lock Tension system fastens together quicker and easier than other probes on the market.   The individual probe sections are also shorter than some other brands out there. This means when the probe is taken apart, it fits into more packs.  Since the average burial around 1.2 meters deep, a 2..6 meter probe is plenty long.  Save the 300 CM probes for ski patrols and search and rescue teams.  If a carbon probe is out of your price point, check out the Profile 240.

3. Avalanche Shovel: One word-METAL!  If I show up at the trailhead and my friend has a cheap plastic shovel I give him my nice metal one and take their cheap one.  I want them to be able to dig me up!  Plastic shovels do not cut hard snow nearly as good as the metal ones.  They also tend to break.  New technology has brought down the weight and size of metal shovels to be almost comparable to plastic.  Don’t skimp here.  The BCA line of shovels is super burly, light weight, and break down to compact sizes.  The days of choosing between weight and strength are over.  These shovels are as burley as you can get!

4. Snow saw: These are becoming more popular and should be carried by at least one member of the group.  To get accurate results from bonding tests like the shovel compression test and the Rutschblock test a saw really should be used.  Yes, they can be done without a saw, but the results will be more accurate and repeatable if a saw is used.  A saw can also be very useful to cut through trees and other debris that your friend is buried under!  Get a saw with a good handle and that can easily attach to a ski pole for extended reach.

5. Rescue Sled System: This one is not directly avalanche related but still critical in a winter backcountry setting.  Say that you are your buds are out skiing the pow.  You are maybe 1 mile or even less from the road.  Suddenly somebody in the group takes a bad turn and BAMM, they get hurt and can no longer ski out.  Suddenly a five minute ski through the trees back to car has turned into an epic. The three feet of freshies that you were skiing has become waste deep wallowing. It’s starting to get dark and it looks like somebody is spending the night out with Johny-broken skier-Dowe.  Having a lightweight rescue sled like the Brooks Range rescue sled can be a lifesaver.  Home made sleds can work just as effectively as a store bought one.  Just make sure that your sled can assemble in under two minutes, is lightweight, extremely sturdy and user friendly. Now you can take the injured person’s skis, build a sled and have them to the road and medical care in time to still catch that 7pm movie!

To learn more about the products and info above, give us a call and get in touch.  We have the avalanche or rescue course that will fit your needs.

Posted by: Josh Kling AMGA Certified Guide and AIARE Level 1 & 2 Course Leader.

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