It’s like dream, surfing on a cloud. Weightless turns, bottomless powder, an untouched blanket of snow and no one else for miles around. In big mountain terrain, rewards are huge when you’re dialed, the consequences severe when you’re not.
We stopped by Pine Needle Mountaineering at the foot of the San Juan Mountains in Durango, Colorado, to get a look at the gear to help keep you safe in avalanche terrain.
Backpacks $100 to $600
Black Diamond’s Avalung Ready packs can be fitted with their Avalung, or the apparatus can be purchased individually- it’s a device that can significantly prolong ability to breath under snow, allowing more time for a successful rescue.
In an avalanche burial, the clock is ticking. A person buried without injury typically doesn’t suffocate or freeze, they asphyxiate, according to the American Avalanche Association. And in as little as 15 minutes. While there is oxygen in snow, heated exhalations melts snow around a person’s face and airway, creating an ice mask barrier that seals oxygen out and carbon dioxide in. An Avalung allows you direct those breaths of C02 away from your airway. In a controlled study by the International Snow Science Workshop study, an Avalung was found to provide adequate oxygen for up to 60 minutes. In many actual events they have been deemed crucial factors in survival.
Flotation packs $500 to $1,200
Sometimes called balloon packs, these airbag-fitted backpacks becoming increasingly popular. Studies suggest that larger objects caught in avalanches move toward the surface of the snow, so flotation packs are designed to increase the size and buoyancy of a person caught in a slide.
Backcountry Access Float packs feature a 150-liter airbag that deploys with the pull of a trigger mounted on the shoulder harness. Filled with a blast of compressed air from a serviceable air cylinder stowed in an internal sleeve, the airbag inflates in a few seconds.
Several flotation manufacturers use air or nitrogen charges, while others use a powerful battery-operated fan that inflates the airbag.
Beacon $170 to $420
Today’s small, user-friendly transceivers are equipped with multiple antennas and can transmit and pick up signals from tremendous distances. They are always carried on your person in avalanche terrain, their function set to transmit mode. In the event of an avalanche burial, rescuers switch to search mode function and follow a rehearsed method of locating a signal from a buried party.
Probe $50 to $100
When the beacon transmission has been narrowed to the smallest area, rescuers will then use their probe, a collapsible pole that is used to poke through snow and contact the buried party. Once contact is made, rescuers grab their shovels and start digging, downhill and away from the buried person.
Shovel $50 to $100
The key to shovels is to find one that is lightweight and packs well, but also sturdy and highly effective for digging. Not only are they crucial for rescue, but also for making snow observations and as a basic survival tool. Usually plastic or aluminum, some shovels can be assembled as hoes for efficiency.
While technologies improve, the beacon, shovel and probe continue to be the essential tools for companion rescue and proper training to use effectively can make the ultimate difference in a backcountry emergency.