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Avalanche shovels for use as a hoe, rescue sled or snow anchor

Avalanche shovels for the rescue of avalanche victims

After you have done broad and fine searches with your transceiver, and you have pinpointed the position of the victim with your probe, there is nothing left to do but dig your friends out with the shovel. With your companions, organise and dig downhill, taking turns shovelling to conserve energy. At the same time, you can build a rescue shovel or a lifeline with some shovel blades. Of course, avalanche shovels can be used for building kickers. Various different handles, shafts and blades bring different advantages with them. Read through our information then you can decide between models like the Mammut Alugator, the K2 Rescue Shovel or the Black Diamond Deploy Shovel.

  1. Avalanche Shovel: a compact design for quick use
    1. The Shaft: fixed or adjustable
    2. The handle of the Avalanche Shovel
    3. The Blade: Size, Volume, Edge and Form.
  2. Special features of an avalanche shovel: Hoe, Anchor or a Rescue Sled
  3. The materials of the shovel. Aluminum or Carbon.
  4. Space Saving: Packing an avalanche shovel in a backpack

Avalanche Shovel: a compact design for quick use

The shovel is part of the basic equipment which you should have for touring and riding and riding away from maintained trails. Made for use in emergency situations, to rescue the victims of an avalanche but shovel can be used to help in other situations. If your car is snowed in or you want to build a backcountry kicker, the compact design and fast application will always be an advantage. The shovel is made of:

  • Handle
  • Shaft and 
  • Blade.

The parts of a shovel, grip, handle and blade
Grip handle and blade of an avalanche shovel

The Shaft: fixed or adjustable

The shaft of the shovel usually comes with an oval shape, this is often the easiest to use and snaps easily into the blade. Triangle shafts are also useful and quick to assemble. With some of the manufacturers, you can extend the shaft telescopically. A longer leverage gives you more power for shovelling and allows more people to work at once.

The handle of the Avalanche Shovel

The handles can be broadly divided into three different types:

  • T-handles
  • D-handles
  • L-handles
The most common is the T-handle. This is an easily to assemble and space saving, it can be serrated or rounded for maximum ergonomics. The best power transmission and most comfortable is the D-handle. With this handle type, the shaft of the shovel doesn’t disturb the hand and you can transmit maximum power to the shovel. Another form is the L-handle which also has great power transmission, however, the D-handle is the most efficient.

grips, from D grip to L grip and T grip
D grip, L grip and t Grip for a shovel

The Blade: Size, Volume, Edge and Form.

The blade of the shovel is responsible for how easily it is to dig and how much snow you can transport. The blade of the shovel is relatively small compared to a conventional shovel. This allows you to cut through medium to hard snow, most snow from an avalanche is not usually harder to cut into. Larger blades are more efficient for moving large amounts of snow, however, they are recommended for larger or stronger riders as they take more effort. If you are more petite you might not be able to handle a fully loaded blade. Also, check if you blade and handle fit inside your rucksack.

A shovel will give the volume of snow which will fit in the shovel, however, this is not necessarily accurate as often you will often shovel heaped piles of snow, which will naturally have more volume.

The angle and form of the blade will affect how the shovel works significantly. Straighter blades will be easier to dig into the snow, but are not massively efficient. A more curved blade may will dig more efficiently but might need to be helped in the with a ski or snowboard boot. If you are using your feet to dig the top shape of the blade is important too as a ski or snowboard boot will slide off a curved top easily.

The shape of the blade edge has an effect on the performance of the shovel when digging. Sharpened blades have a negligible effect on snow removal, serrated or straight blades are the best performing.

Blades for avalanche shovels from BCA, Mammut and Pieps
Different blades of avalanche shovels

Special features of an avalanche shovel: Hoe, Anchor or a Rescue Sled

With some avalanche shovels you have the option to not only use them as a shovel, but also,

  • A Hoe
  • A snow anchor or 
  • A rescue sled
Manufacturers such as K2, Mammut, Orthovox, Pieps and BCA have models which offer these additional functions. Other brands may just offer the conversion to a hoe or a rescue vehicle.

If your shovel is convertible to a hoe you can change the angle of the blade to 90 ° and clear snow way, sometimes this can be a more efficient way of clearing snow and is also valuable for snow study and cutting blocks for kickers or igloos.

With the small holes which are in some blades, you can string together a rescue shovel with your skis or snowboard or create a snow anchor. 

The materials of the shovel. Aluminum or Carbon.

Most of the shovels on the market use aluminium in the construction of the shovel, which is both robust and easy to use. The thermoset blades are practically unbreakable and don’t bend easily, which is often the case with cheaper plastic blades. If you want a particularly light and strong blade for the shovel go for carbon.

Space Saving: Packing an avalanche shovel in a backpack

Avalanche shovels should fit easily within a backcountry style backpack. Separate the blade and handle and there should be a dedicated pocket which is easy access in the case of an avalanche.

Blade and handle of a Pieps Avalanche Shovel in a Jetforce Avalanche Rucksack
A shovel in a Pieps Jetforce Avalanche Backpack