If you’re planning a day of backcountry skiing, hiking, or exploring, it is essential to pack several pieces of avalanche survival equipment. Including just a few pieces of equipment will greatly reduce your risk of death or extreme injury. If you spend a lot of your winter exploring backcountry slopes, invest in the following items.
- A small shovel. If you’re caught up in an avalanche, you will need to spend some energy creating an air pocket around your body. This is made easier with the use of a shovel. If you’re less than a foot away from the surface, a shovel can be used to escape.
- A helmet. This is a no-brainer, especially if you’re skiing or climbing. Many avalanche-related fatalities occur because of the initial impact of snow or objects caught in the path. A helmet is your best protection against losing consciousness and potential head injury.
- An avalanche receiver and probe. If you get trapped, an avalanche receiver will put out a signal to identify where you are buried. The avalanche probe provides a more specific location for rescuers to begin the digging process. If you’re heading out with a group, each person should carry both—don’t assume that one of each device will be enough.
- Skier air bags. This is the only optional item on the survival kit list. Skier air bags have become popular in recent years, as they keep our body closer to the surface of the snow. Human bodies are denser than snow, meaning you’re likely to be pulled to the bottom as the snow travels downhill; an air bag will work against that. Additionally, this can create an essential air pocket if you get trapped.
If your backcountry experience leans closer to casual participant than frequent enthusiast, you should still be prepared for emergencies. Luckily, most of these items are relatively inexpensive. The more expensive equipment, such as a helmet, is easily rentable from a local ski and snowboard retailer. If you can’t get your hands on equipment to stuff your emergency pack, you shouldn’t be out exploring. When it comes to avalanches, you should always expect the unexpected.