Hitting the backcountry with a group of buddies is what snowboarding is all about. Fresh powder, lines for days, and beautiful scenery make it all but impossible not to have fun.
But backcountry riding is not without its dangers. Prime among them are avalanches.
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An avalanche can occur at any time in the backcountry so it is important to always be prepared for them. In addition to a beacon and probe, every member of your party should carry a snow shovel too. You never know who or how many people are going to be buried in the event of an avalanche and you definitely don’t want your only avalanche snow shovel to be trapped underneath the snow as well.
How to Use Avalanche Shovel
If a buddy gets trapped in an avalanche, a snow shovel is going to be your best friend. After locating their position underneath the snow with the help of an avalanche beacon and an avalanche probe, it’s time to dig.
Focus on digging out your trapped friend’s airways first. All of that heavy snow makes it difficult to breathe even if they’re lucky enough to be in an air pocket. Take care to remove snow from their head and their chest before removing it from other parts of their body.
Another key tip to make the most of your avalanche snow shovel is to dig from below. Use the slope and angle of the mountain to your advantage. Digging in from the side, or even from the bottom if the snow is stable enough, will allow you to drag your friend out of the snow rather than pull them upwards vertically. This is especially true if they are buried deep beneath the snow.
Other Uses for an Avalanche Snow Shovel
Though an avalanche snow shovel is used primarily for rescuing buried friends, they can be used for a number of other tasks as well.
Chief among these other tasks is snowpack study. Digging a small pit into the snow on a backcountry snowboarding expedition can alert you to what is happening underneath your feet. Oftentimes, the top layer of snow can be deceiving. It’s a great idea to take a basic class in snow conditions and avalanche awareness before heading out so you know what to look for.
A snow shovel can also be used to erect an emergency shelter. If you are on a day outing and need to stay overnight, because of an emergency or mishap of some sort, a snow shovel allows you to dig a quick shelter in a tree well or a trench. It is much easier to do this with a shovel than with your hands.
Even if you’re planning on an overnight stay in the backcountry and you don’t run into any major problems, a snow shovel can still be useful. They are commonly used to level out a space for a tent to be set up when snow camping. They can also be used to carve out a windscreen to make the camping experience more comfortable.
Finally, an avalanche snow shovel can be used to create fresh drinking water for your crew. Of course, hands work well for this task, but a snow shovel allows you to dig snow faster and with less energy spent. Simply scoop up a shovelful, melt, and drink.
Avalanche snow shovels come in all shapes, sizes, and designs. It really is hard to rate one over another because of the variety of materials that go into their construction. However, a strong and lightweight snow shovel that can be easily attached to a backpack is a great bet.
For more information on avalanche snow safety and snow science please visit: nsidc.org