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Avalanche Gear - most reliable and lightest
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(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Avalanche Gear - most reliable and lightest on 12/29/2008 16:48:22 MST Print View

Any suggestions? There are plenty of winter hiking and ski touring routes out here (N California) where there can be avalanche danger. While avy gear is no substitute for good scouting and prudent decisions, I'd feel a lot safer with a good set of avalanche gear.

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
posting here in winter hiking or in mountaineering section on 12/29/2008 16:50:30 MST Print View

I thought about whether this should go in a mountaineering or hiking section, but think it should go here for the simple reason that many hiking and ski touring routes are exposed to avalanche danger, yet many hikers and skiers don't think too much about it because they aren't venturing "far" into the backcountry or attempting steep routes.

Mike Clelland
(mikeclelland) - MLife

Locale: The Tetons (via Idaho)
Avalanche SKILLS on 12/29/2008 19:06:22 MST Print View

Get the skills in conjunction with getting the gear.

You'll need a beacon, a shovel, a probe - and a PARTNER!

You'll both need avy skills and practice.

The gear is required, and there are some light options in each catagory.

I strongly recommend a short format AVALANCHE 1 course. Most ski towns will run them during the winter.

this is a good first place to review for skills.

Read Bruce Tremper's excellent book,

(AND - the snow-claw IS light, but it's NOT a good digging tool, get a real shovel).

Sam Haraldson
(sharalds) - MLife

Locale: Gallatin Range
Avalanche Gear - most reliable and lightest on 12/31/2008 11:47:08 MST Print View

Mike puts it well. Your brain is the most important tool in avalanche safety equipment.

Beacon - find a model that is easy to use and is time-tested. The next-best-thing might not be what you want for a beacon. Using something that is proven is key. Also, remember that fresh batteries are a must.

Probe - simple, fast, sturdy. Deploy it often so you're good at using it.

Shovel - Weight is something you're simply going to have to deal with here. The average avalanche burial is going to require 10 to 15 minutes of shoveling. That is a LOT of work. Having the proper shovel will help keep your buddy alive.

Stephen Klassen
Avvy gear on 01/02/2009 02:06:25 MST Print View

I would recommend education and an emphasis on routefinding/area selection. A lot of weekend hikers lock themselves into a destination in advance of knowing the avvy forecast - bad idea.

Also, consider ABS, Snowpulse, and Avalung. I don't know when/if the hipbelt airbag will make it to market.

Paul Tree
(Paul_Tree) - F

Locale: Wowwww
Avy stuff on 01/02/2009 11:55:35 MST Print View

I fully agree with the BPL posts above. Route-finding and avy avoidance are way more effective than trying to dig your friends out afterwards. The Tremper book is excellent. The Snowclaw is a pet peeve: dead weight, false security, ineffective on hard debris, and can't be used around camp without getting hands and knees in the snow.
Voile XLM shovel is 15 oz.Link

For the avy forecast centering around Tahoe:

Then there is the network of actual snow sensors, CDEC etc:

Teton Gravity Research has a neat video with their simplified "5 red flags in the backcountry":

Lake Tahoe Community College has winter survival, avy, and backcountry skiing and snowboarding classes. There used to be some that were 2-weekends in a row, but schedules vary.

As far as actual gear, I have a BCA Tracker beacon, rarely discounted but often bundled with a shovel. Seems to work fine, reliable. The new Tracker 2 should be out in Feb 2009. Ortovox S1 looks new. Better check some reviews. The trend seems to be multiple antennas for better digital spike suppression.

Practice will likely make more of a difference than technology. Beaches are an OK place to practice down in the bay, but put it in a plastic bag first. EDIT: and DON'T FORGET TO TURN IT ON!!!

Probe: I have an older carbon BD probe. At 10 oz, seems heavy. There are arguments about how long you want it, as most all people will be die if more than 6 feet down. One nice thing about a long probe is that you can use it to look for a good snow cave locations. And makes a great ridgeline for a tarp. There are ski poles you can screw together for probing. Never tried them.

I have an older Voile Shovel. Tourlight perhaps. I never ever ever bring the handle extension, just one segment.

Edited by Paul_Tree on 01/02/2009 15:28:42 MST.

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
thank you on 01/10/2009 11:22:54 MST Print View

This is all great advice - thank you very much for taking the time to share with us. For some reason I wasn't getting alerts for a while. I had some of the same thoughts about the shovel. We will definitely be taking courses - there's no substitute for hands-on education and practice. I've also been researching on backcountry ski sites and local Sierra ski group - heard that ASI has great courses as well (they are near Truckee, close to Sugar Bowl).

I think a real shovel will be well worth the weight.

Also for now, we'll probably confine ourselves only to trips with an experienced guide or guided group.

I'm surprised to find that at least in our area, it seems the only ones who think about avalanches and avalanche education are the backcountry skiers (not winter hikers/snowshoers). I know the skiers are likely to be on slopes, but it seems anyone venturing out into mountainous backcountry should be prepared.

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
Voile XLM on 01/17/2009 14:38:29 MST Print View

Thanks again Paul. The Voile XLM is the lightest real shovel I could find. Going to continue educating ourselves, renting the gear in the mean time as part of courses, but will probably wait to buy along with full AT ski setup until later this year off-season or next season. The shovel we'll probably pick up now for camp use.

Brian Barnes
(brianjbarnes) - M

Locale: Midwest
RE: "Avalanche Gear - most reliable and lightest" on 01/17/2009 15:16:38 MST Print View

Hey EJ - I just posted some shovel data in our WIKI. (SEE: If you find any lightweight "real" shovels that I missed please at least add their names to the list. I too am leaning towards the Voile XLM.

(mountainwalker) - MLife

Locale: SF Bay Area & New England
light aluminum shovel that is longer than XLM for tall folks on 02/14/2009 19:25:15 MST Print View

I found the Voile XLM to be exactly what it was supposed to be - a light but strong compact shovel, strong enough to easily handle Sierra cement. That said, if you are taller, you'll have less pressure on your back with a longer handle. For my wife at 5 ft 6, it's workable - for me at 6 ft tall, I'd be much better off with a longer handle. I think the Voile XLM comes in at 2 ft - I'd like a model that's about a foot longer.

Can anyone recommend another longer but on-the-light-side aluminum blade telescoping shovel?

Stephen Klassen
Avvy Shovels on 02/14/2009 22:06:56 MST Print View

Voile makes a telescoping mini that is 74cm long.

I used to use one, but now I use a Deploy 3. I had difficulties getting the Voile to piece together and break down, while the Deploy has a triangular (sorry, "trapezoidal") shaft so it is always aligned,. and I can pack it in one piece.

Black Diamond makes another shovel, the Transfer 7, that is 86cm long. I would definitely recommend at least taking a close look at this shovel.

Longer also means more leverage - as in much easier to break the shaft of the shovel. Should be more careful to use chop and scoop technique.

MEC site with some info:

G3 shovels are also worth looking at.

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
Avy gear on 02/16/2009 21:25:36 MST Print View


Having used avy gear for practice & snow pack testing, not for rescue - yet, let me state that Mike Clelland is absolutely correct in the 1st instance. Take an Avalanche 1 course. Then take an Avy 2 course next year.

I took a 4 day course, 2 days mostly indoors and 2 days "practicum" on the mountains. Then after the course keep re-reading "Snow Sense" and your notes.

As for gear, it's what WORKS BEST, not what's lightest. Most avy gear weighs nearly the same. Here's my list:

SHOVEL - BCA mid-size T handle shovel (but I prefer D handles) Never, ever take a plastic bladed shovel. They're usless.

PROBE - Black Diamond Super Tour

SNOW SAW - BCA shorter version (12" blade)

AVALUNG - Strap-on model, not built-in-pack model

BEACON - BCA Tracker Easy to use and less expensive than my 1st choice, Mammut Barryvox Pulse

SNOW STUDY KIT - from REI (snow crystal & info cards, magnifier, thermometer) Silva Ranger CL compass W/ clinometer.

And if you're independently (still) wealthy buy a Swiss or Austrian air bag backpack. They tout a 95% survival rate - unless, of course, you go over a cliff or through a rock or tree strainer.

Finally take a woman or three with you. Statistics show parties including women have fewer avalanche fatalities. Probably because they temper the judgement of macho-men who want to "press on regardless". Always err on the side of caution. Never listen to the "bravest" guy in the party if in doubt of the safety of a route.


Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
LW woman? on 02/17/2009 03:02:39 MST Print View

Does it matter if it's a LW woman, and is it possible to include them in your sleeping system?

Eric Blumensaadt
(Danepacker) - MLife

Locale: Mojave Desert
LW women?? on 02/17/2009 10:13:58 MST Print View

Mate, what's an "LW" woman?

BTW, inflatable women don't count as they don't ski.


Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
They all are. on 02/18/2009 01:57:03 MST Print View


All women are LW (lightweight) If you want to tell any woman she's not, you're all on your own there. I call first dibs on your gear.


Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
avy savvy on 10/09/2009 22:54:02 MDT Print View

Even before you take the avalanche course, step 1 is read all the avy books you can find. There are several books available, and they main point you can learn from them is how to recognize avalanche terrain. You can't learn how to assess conditions from a book, or how to go about a rescue. But if you can learn how to recognize and avoid slopes that might avalanche, that's a good first step. And get an inclinometer so you can measure the slopes yourself. It's surprising how far off your guess as to the angle of the slope may be - measuring a bunch of slopes helps you to be able to guage the angle by eye. I go out solo in the backcountry - though never in the real winter, only in the late spring when the avalanche risk tends to be lower - but since I cannot rely on a partner to save me, I have to be very selective in staying on slopes that have a very low avalanche risk. You can't get the risk down to zero - but terrain selection is the first step to keeping it low.
Reading the books will help you get more out of the course as well, since you'll at least be more familiar with the terminology and such.

Ed Collyer
(ecollyer) - F

Locale: East Bay Area
Lightest Avalanche Gear on 10/19/2009 12:26:00 MDT Print View

Knowledge...or....A Body Bag, if you don't know what your doing..even if you do know what your doing.