We don’t want to lecture you on snow safety. However, if you do want to freeride or tour it is really worthwhile to get the avalanche essentials and learn how to use them. There are three pieces of equipment which you should have in your backpack every time you head off-piste; an avalanche transceiver, a shovel and probe. A fourth complimentary piece is an avalanche airbag backpack. All of this equipment is useless without knowing how to use them.
The first item in your avalanche essentials is your transceiver. This device sends and receives signals at 457 kHz, so if you are caught in an avalanche you can be found, or if your partner is buried, you can find them under the snow.
In case of burial, locating the victim is the first step to successful recovery. It goes without saying how critical it is to carry this little helper with you at all times.
All transceivers are compatible; pick a model with the features you need and an interface you feel comfortable handling.
We'll briefly introduce you to the most important features that our avalanche transceivers have.
It is now standard that an avalanche transceiver has three antennas of signal so that you can find the victim more efficiently under the snow.
If you have the severe misfortune to be involved in an avalanche with multiple burials our transceivers can detect and help multiple victims. Either through a mark function for when you have found one of the victims or through a ‘special function’ which directs you towards the strongest signal.
We’re not trying to scare you here, but it’s always better to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. An automatic search to send function is useful if there is a secondary avalanche when you are searching for your friends and you are caught. The transceiver recognises that the searcher has not moved and will automatically change the search mode to send mode.
Once you have zeroed in on the position of the avalanche victim with your transceiver, you can locate them under the snow with a probe and dig them out with a shovel.
An avalanche probe is a long, collapsible pole for finding avalanche victims. You use it after locating the approximate position of the victim with an avalanche transceiver. Its pointed tip penetrates hard snow and ice for efficient probing. The markings along the length of the shaft help you determine the depth of the buried person in the avalanche debris. All of our probes are lightweight and durable, you can choose between aluminium and carbon probes in different lengths.
As with all avalanche gear, training is essential. So make sure you practice with your friends before you head out off-piste.
Apart from emergency situations, probes are also helpful to check snow depths and layers before you start riding.
As soon as the position and depth of the buried person are known, shovels are used. They are tough with metal blades and sturdy extendable handles. Your shovel should be detachable so that it fits inside of your backpack and is easy to assemble.
Special models can be converted into a hoe or a rescue sledge.
With all this equipment it’s useful to be able to carry and access it quickly and comfortably. This is where touring backpacks come in. They offer great organization with dedicated pockets for your shovel, probe and hydration pack. Hip belts and chest straps are also standard features guaranteeing a great fit. Some touring backpacks are compatible with removable avalanche airbag systems.
If you are caught in an avalanche, your best chance of survival is an avalanche airbag. You pull the trigger, the airbag inflates and hopefully, you will rise to the top of the avalanche debris. An avalanche airbag works because inverse segregation or the Brazil Nut effect, simply put – the bigger particles always rise to the top. An airbag rucksack helps to make you as big as possible, so you rise to the top of avalanche debris.
A set is everything you need to inflate your avalanche backpack, so airbag system, backpack and cartridge for inflation. With a full set you’re ready to go.
A set is all you need for riding apart from one big caveat – you need to get a cartridge. Check in the product description and the brand which the set is from. So an Ortovox backpack goes with an Ortovox cartridge, an Arva cartridge goes with an Arva backpack.
A very versatile option is a removable airbag system. As the name suggests, they are removable and exchangeable between different compatible avalanche backpacks. Choose a small pack for short tours and a larger one for longer trips. You can also take the system out and use the bag as a regular backpack. Practical!
An airbag compatible backpack is made so that you can add a removable airbag system. Again, you must make sure that the two options fit, so read the product description carefully.
The cartridge is how you inflate your airbag. When the system is triggered, the compressed gas is released along with inert air which fills the airbag. Please check that the cartridge is compatible with your chosen system.
When looking at different airbag systems, it can be a little overwhelming. Here is an overview of the available options. Make sure that if you buy to match the manufacturer’s cartridge with the respective system.
Ortovox is one of the best-known companies in avalanche safety, so it’s no surprise that their AVABAG range is excellent. AVABAGs are impossibly light and use the tried and tested canister and mechanical handle release. They have lots of space for extra equipment, an easy to use adjustable handle and support through comfortable hip & shoulder straps.
Mammut was one of the first companies to develop avalanche airbags. Their systems are reliable and easy to use. There is the Protection Airbag System and the Removable Airbag System. The protection airbag system has an airbag which inflates around your head to protect against trauma and as the name suggests the Removable Airbag System can be switched between different compatible packs.
BCA is one of the first names in snow safety. The Americans’ Float series are uncomplicated easy to use packs. They have easy to use features like multiple ski and snowboard straps, a left- or right-handed activation handle and plenty of usable space
Scott, the Swiss manufacturer of backcountry skis, protection and goggles also has an avalanche system. The Alpride system is light, adjustable and easy to use. Currently, all the systems which we have from Scott have cartridges included, so all you need to do is install them, and you’re good to go.
Based out of Annecy, France, Arva is a well-established snow safety company. The reactor system is a double airbag system – if one side of the airbag is deflated in the avalanche, then the other stays inflated. They also have an interesting lockable handle and massive airbag capacity for maximum floatation in the slide.