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lightest avalanche shovel?
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David Targan

Locale: New England
lightest avalanche shovel? on 12/18/2005 19:58:59 MST Print View

What is a good lightweight avalanche shovel? My life link that I've used for the last few years weighs almost two pounds.

Jason Ham
(jasonham) - MLife

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Shovel on 12/18/2005 20:32:35 MST Print View

The lightest metal shovel with a handle that I can locate is the Voile XLM. It is a shade under 16 oz. This is a standard shovel with a shorty handle and an aluminum blade. It has worked well with moving consolidated frozen snow that is common here in the Sierra.

I also looked at the aluminum version of the Snowclaw (12oz). A lot of Ultralighters seem to be psyched on this tool and the video at their website sure makes it seem like you could move debris with it. I remain a skeptic. I probably need to just buy one and try it out in the debris around here to feel some confidence in it. I am just afraid that it won't provide the leverage that a handle affords when digging in really hardened snow. And since I use my shovel primarily as an avalanche recovery tool, I need to feel certain. There is also a plastic version of the Snowclaw at about 6 oz. I totally discounted this because of potential breakage in cold and icy hard conditions.

Could be that I'm wrong about the shortcomings of the Snowclaw. I'd be interested in some real world experiences with these shovels. Sure would be nice to have such a light and compact tool.

Al Shaver
(Al_T.Tude) - F - M

Locale: High Sierra and CA Central Coast
Snow Claw Shovel on 12/19/2005 03:05:47 MST Print View

For a review by Dr. J of the 6oz. plastic shovel, an assessment of it's efficacy at rapidly moving avalanche debris and ordering info on this website go to: Gear Shop/Accessories/Snow & Winter Camping.

Jason Ham
(jasonham) - MLife

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Guide Snowclaw Shovel on 12/19/2005 13:04:58 MST Print View

My comment about that review is a question...What type of debris did Ryan move with the shovel? Snow types vary from range to range. Was this spring melt/freeze corn from the Northern Rockies that had slid or was it unconsolidated relatively dry slab or was it dense wet slab? Has anyone ever broken a "GUIDE" model shovel? The review sounds convincing, but the backcountry ski/avalanche rescue community has yet to post any positive comments that I've found. Anyone know of reviews or postings about this shovel besides the ultralight community?

kevin davidson
(kdesign) - F

Locale: Mythical State of Jefferson
SnowClaw-- a time and a place on 12/19/2005 13:27:21 MST Print View

No one in the Rescue community is going to greenlight either model of Snowclaw. It's a better than nothing kind of tool. Supplementary rather than replacing a snow shovel w/ handle. You can't beat the leverage of a long handled shovel or the increased blade strength found in many of the same.

That being said, I carry a plastic Snowclaw when I solo Backcountry ski or if I'm in a larger group that's carrying a LifeLink or 2.

Michael Freyman
(mfreyman) - MLife
Carbon Fiber / Kevlar Shovel on 12/19/2005 15:21:06 MST Print View

Carbon Fiber / Kevlar Shovel

Have not purchased mine yet; but have heard great reviews of products.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Carbon Fiber / Kevlar Shovel on 12/20/2005 20:17:29 MST Print View

OK, some caveats about the Snowclaw.

The original Snowclaw is not a bad tool to carry in your pack, but it is one of those "better than nothing" type of tools. When we were testing it, we were doing so on Northern Rocky Mountain mid-winter avalanche debris. Think about the kind of debris that forms from snow that falls in response to low temperature gradients: homogenous, dry, low-density.

The original SnowClaw is not a suitable tool for avalanches where the snow is highly consolidated, aged, icy, etc.

The new version of the SnowClaw, sold here, is stiffer than the old and has a far better digging shape. I've tested it in consolidated avalanche debris and it works better than the original. It's still not my first choice of an avy shovel for rescue scenarios. Nor is the aluminum, which digs great. I just prefer a handle for leveraging / prying blocks when needed, and this is useful in a real debris pile.

Does that mean the SnowClaw is worthless in a rescue scenario? Not at all. A few people with shovels dealing with the hard stuff and a few people moving soft stuff with a SnowClaw can do an incredible job of digging a massive volume of snow fast. The SnowClaw does move a lot of snow really fast.

I generally take a SnowClaw for touring in low-risk avy terrain, backcountry camping/snowcaving in the winter and spring. I take a handled shovel when the focus is on skiing steep terrain or touring over passes with partners.

For SAR missions (I'm on the Gallatin County SAR Hasty team), I carry a handled shovel.

The handled shovel I have is a Backcountry Access Tour, the shorty. I've cut off the webbing on the cliplock and drilled enough holes in the blade to reduce weight but not sacrifice blade strength (it took a sacrificial shovel to get it right :). The weight of my shovel is 16.3 oz.

The Mountain Mod carbon shovels are pretty neat. A long handled shovel for a pound - that's pretty good. I've used one a couple times, it did feel heavier than a pound to me (holding it and my BCA shovel side by side), but didn't weigh it. It moves soft snow fine but the carbon blade is probably not going to pry our rock solid blocks without breaking. I started to do this and the owner of the shovel begged me not to take it to its failure point. The blade edge was bending pretty good, and the same amount of force didn't bend my BCA blade.

Conservative recommendation: I think the plastic SnowClaws are appropriate for backcountry camping/touring where (1) avy risk is low, (2) you're not in the Cascades ;), and (3) the primary shovel use is for shelters.

I'm comfortable taking the newer composite SnowClaws (the ones we sell) for skiing the steeps, because I've played with them a lot in avy debris. However, my partners generally don't have that experience, and aren't as comfortable, so it gives them piece of mind for me to carry an aluminum shovel. I'm ok with that. We have a standing role in our ski group of friends that if any of us is uncomfortable with the shovel or probe someone else brings, they can trade it for the ones they brought. After all, you are bringing these safety items for the others in your party, not for you.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Carbon Fiber Shovel on 12/20/2005 20:22:22 MST Print View

Forgot to mention about the Mountain Mod shovel. It's a scoop. Not the greatest avalanche shovel design because its severely canted shape, while holding a lot of snow, can't be shoved straight into hard snow, which is a key technique for breaking up debris.

Michael Freyman
(mfreyman) - MLife
Re: Carbon Fiber Shovel on 12/21/2005 15:02:06 MST Print View

Ryan ... thanks for your thoughts on the Mountain Mod shovel. I will reconsider my choice of upgrade, or not, of my current life link shovels.

-- mike

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
snow claw on 12/22/2005 14:43:59 MST Print View

Two of my friends go ultralight guiding the High
Route in the Alps.

One carries a snow claw (she has been an avalanche forecaster in Utah and knows her stuff).

The other carries a black diamond shovel and uses
an ice axe for the handle.

David Spellman
(dspellman) - F
Re: lightest avalanche shovel? on 12/24/2005 23:07:23 MST Print View

How about the Komperdell carbon fiber shovel? Weighs one pound. The blade is steel reinforced. Collapsed 26", extended 35". mentioned it as an item they looked at during the Outdoor show last January, but I haven't seen any followups.

David Spellman
(dspellman) - F
Re: Snow Claw Shovel on 12/24/2005 23:09:27 MST Print View

Alan Shaver:
For a review by Dr. J of the 6oz. plastic shovel, an assessment of it's efficacy at rapidly moving avalanche debris and ordering info on this website go to: Gear Shop/Accessories/Snow & Winter Camping.

That Snowclaw is a limited use item; it's not an adequate substitute for a shovel under a lot of conditions.