Photo: Ortovox, Stubai, Hansi Heckmair
One of the greatest risks we face when skiing and snowboarding off-piste or out in the backcountry is that posed by an avalanche.
The majority of victims are caught in avalanches that have been triggered by themselves or their companions. Statistics show that in the event of an avalanche burial, the buried victim’s greatest chance of survival is to be located and uncovered within 15 minutes.
With the average call out time for an official search and rescue team to arrive on location and begin searching at around 30 to 40 minutes it is apparent that the avalanche victim’s greatest chance of survival is through an efficient and rapid search and rescue operation provided by the victim’s properly equipped and prepared companions on location.
The minimum requirements for skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry are a transceiver, shovel and probe. There are some scary statistics that show search and rescue times for locating and uncovering an avalanche victim under 1 meter of snow by teams with:
- Only a transceiver: 1-2 hours
- Transceiver and probe: 50 minutes
- Transceiver and shovel: 25 minutes
- Transceiver, shovel and probe: 11 minutes
From this, you can see just how important the Essential 3 items are.
Don’t venture out there without them!
Remember that backcountry areas are not patrolled and you need to have an idea of how long it will take you to get to where you want to go and how long it will take you to get back into a patrolled area. Make sure you know what time the last lifts of the day run in case you need to use them to get back to your resort.
Before you venture off-piste always remember the following:
- Check the current/latest weather conditions.
- Never venture off-piste if you have no experience of understanding mountain conditions and recognising avalanche risk.
- Never venture off-piste or backcountry on your own.
- Always use a guide or somebody with extensive knowledge of the area.
- Always carry and know how to use an avalanche transceiver, probe, shovel and other essential survival equipment.
Lastly remember to give an indication of the area where you are intending to ski or snowboard to your rep, friends or somebody who will be able to raise an alarm should you fail to return.
The Essential 3
Ortovox 3+ Transceiver
This 3-antenna transceiver is super simple to use. The circular display clearly guides at each stage of a search promoting fast recoveries even when faced with multiple burials. Automatic switchover in case of a secondary avalanche.
Maximum range: 40m
Ortovox Pro Light Shovel
The new Pro Light is an ultralight, compact shovel that still offers impressive functionality. The sharp, sturdy blade features cut out notches for minimal weight, while high sidewalls and stabilisation ribs ensure rigidity.
Ortovox Alu 240 PFA Probe
In emergency situations, speed is of the essence. Optimised for fast, faff-free assembly, this 240cm length probe is easy to deploy quickly and efficiently.
Ortovox Zoom+ Avalanche Rescue Set
This rescue set offers an economical way to discover all the backcountry has to offer. It includes a Zoom+ transceiver, Alu 240 Probe, Badger Shovel and Safety Academy Guide Book. A great gift for anyone wanting to explore away from groomed runs!
Avalanche Airbag Systems
Widely regarded as the fourth piece of must-have backcountry safety equipment, avalanche airbags have been shown to save lives by preventing burial when caught in an avalanche. Regardless of brand, all avalanche airbags work on the same principle; referred to in scientific circles as the principle of Inverse Segregation. Put simply, this states that when in motion, larger objects will always move to the top. This is also true of an avalanche.
Avalanche airbag packs contain large airbags that upon inflation significantly increase your volume. This helps to keep you on top of an avalanche rather than getting buried underneath. When buying an avalanche airbag, a major consideration will be what type of activation system the airbag uses.
Two main types exist: canister activation using canisters of compressed air to fill the airbag, or fan activation using a battery powered system. The two bestsellers from Mammut and Black Diamond below showcase these two separate technologies and provide a great introduction to this game-changing product category.
Mammut Ride Protection Airbag 3.0
Equipped with the Protection Airbag System 3.0, the Ride is an impressive all-rounder. The unique shape of the Protection airbag provides protection from trauma injuries as well as burial, making it the best choice for the worst case scenario. Ideal for one-day ski or snowboard tours, it offers a practical feature set for backcountry exploration. Cartridge not included.
Weight: 2.73kg (Inc. airbag system)
Mammut Carbon Cartridge 300 Bar
Black Diamond Halo 28 Airbag Pac
The Halo 28 backcountry pack is a proven performer. Using innovative JetForce technology, the result of a multi-year collaboration between Black Diamond and PIEPS, it was the first avalanche airbag system to use jet-fan inflation. With JetForce’s packable airbag and fully rechargeable electronics system, it provides zero-cost user practice and travel-friendly performance.
Weight: 3.4kg (Inc. airbag system)