For freeriders who love to go off-track with their touring equipment, the essential safety equipment should consist of a shovel, probe, tracker beacon and avalanche airbag. Due to its importance in the case of an emergency, it should be self-explanatory to cast a special eye on the quality and reliability of the avalanche shovel.
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More Shovel Facts
A piece of gear that is built to save lives when avalanche victims are buried under the avalanche – debris of snow that can only be removed with a proper training, technique, and with a good quality shovel. Even though the main purpose of an avalanche shovel is for a companion rescue, it can come very handy when building snow walls around a campsite, building quinzhees or for digging snow pits for snowpack stability observations or in the worst-case scenario shovel parts can also be used to build an emergency rescue sled.
Handle, shaft and blade - What to look for when buying an avalanche shovel?
First of all, you should lay eyes on a material shovel is made of. It would be either aluminum, plastic or carbon, and occasionally titanium.
Since carbon and titanium materials are mostly used in avalanche equipment for ski mountaineering competitions where weight is crucial, we will look elsewhere, into aluminum material. While plastic shovels tend to bend and are lighter than aluminum ones, shovels made of aluminum are more reliable and solid and won’t shatter against hard avalanche debris and ice as plastic shovel might.
Shovel blade and size
Avalanche shovel usually comes in two parts – shaft and blade. The shaft is usually telescopic so it can easily fit in the backpack as well as a blade together in one compartment. Make sure it’s not sticking out, or else it may fall out or rip the backpack open.Shovel blades come in various shapes and sizes and should be chosen accordingly.
If the blade is too big, it also requires more strength to transport the snow over and over again, and this might get you tired very quickly. However, if the blade is too small you might have to increase the rate of shoveling which might get you tired again. Remember, it is all about efficiency and regular practice, out in the field.
When it comes down to the shape of a shovel blade-some blades come in flatter shape than others or with curved sidewalls. For example, snow on blades with curved sidewalls and anodized blade will stick better during transportation from one place to another. Two more things worth pointing out is, few brands even make shovel blades with serrated end which makes chopping dense avalanche debris way easier than regular dull blades. And when digging snow pits, having flat angled blade is a factor to consider for a smoother pit wall.
Grips and handles
On the market there’s currently a few types of grip to pick from. L and T-shaped grips are lighter and more compact storing in a backpack but harder to hold when wearing mittens. On a flip side, D-shaped type grips are more comfortable and easier to hold. Some shovels even have a feature of configuring shovel and shaft into a hoe, when chopping and dragging an avalanche debris is more efficient than simple shoveling.
Know before you go – get the training and learn how you can have fun in the mountains while being safe.