With so much snow around it’s important to make sure we all have the right equipment – should the shit hit the fan. Avalanches are like plane crashes in that you never think that YOU will actually be caught in one. Being buried is something that happens to other people. Unfortunately, they happen to everyone. No one is exempt, and no one is safe. All you can do is try and learn as much as possible about the mountain and snow conditions and take every precaution that you can. I was given a book for my birthday called: Free Skiing - How to adapt to the mountain. Available from amazon.co.uk RRP: £27.99. Buy it. Read it. Learn it. Everyone knows that they should wear a helmet and maybe some body protection in case they fall but if you’re thinking of hitting the powder, there’s some safety equipment that you need to think about. No one should be going off piste without proper avalanche equipment. And there’s no point in you kitting yourself out if the people you’re riding with don’t have the right stuff. Everyone in your group should have avalanche kit and know how to use it. And as buying kit is really expensive, and the thought of being caught in an avalanche is really scary, we thought we’d make choosing your gear a little bit easier. The first thing you need is a bag to put everything in. They come in all shapes and sizes and now you can even get a nice selection of prints and colours. The best brands are Dakine, Black Diamond and Burton. They’re all around the same price and do the same job so it’s a case of style preference. Your pack will come in handy for hiking as well as you can attach your skis or board and walk easily.
Burton Women's Paradise pack – this bag has the best product description ever - it will "Survive outside the reach of cell phones and snowbladers“
Dakine girls heli-pack - its sleek and will lie nicely on your back. Features an insulated hydro sleeve and fleece lined goggle pocket. I love Dakine – they are real specialists in the bag department and they do a damn good job. A few years ago they only did plain old boring snoring black. Now they have a wicked range of designs – shame they’re so well made that I have no reason to replace my boring black one! Dakine Girls Heli Pro - they've halved the weight in this years version without compromising on performance. The ski and snowboard carries are stable and comfortable whilst the numerous pockets are large enough to hold all of your safety gear and essentials. This one’s our fave
Second up you need a transceiver. This will be your biggest expense. There’s a range of bleepers out there, all at different prices. Going for the cheapest is a false economy as This piece of kit is the key to saving your life if you’re caught in a slide so chose wisely. I’d recommend going to a shop and trying them all on. It needs to fit and feel comfortable and you need to understand how it works. Then shop around on the net for the best deals. Here's a pick of the top sellers £ the latest all digital, 3 antenna transceiver this is aimed at more advanced users. When the S1 is switched on, simply opening the case switches it into search mode. The screen has the ability to display information on multiple burials at the same time so the user can choose who to rescue first. The S1 also incorporates an electronic compass, thermometer and inclinometer. Whether you need all that on a bleeper, I'm not sure! This is an advanced piece of kit and I would only buy it if you've been using transceivers for years. If you're new to this game and struggle with small menus and gadgets then this is probably not for you
£ this is the easiest transceiver to use on the market. It's great for first time users and will serve you well into your pro career thanks to it's simplicity and effectiveness. Not the smallest of transceivers but it's very reasonably priced and its a fully digital dual antenna transceiver unlike some of the other cheaper models which are single antenna. IT works by detecting a signal and showing the approximate distance and direction of the victim. If you tend to struggle with gadgets then this is the one for you.
£ The lowest cost transceiver and the latest bleeper from Pieps. Cheap? Yes. But it's not very easy to use. Like I said, you shouldn't chose a cheaper transceiver to save money, but if it's a choice between having a transceiver and not having one, the Pieps freeride is definitely better than not having anything. If you are going to buy the Pieps, I recommend that you have a lot of training and practice with it before heading out into the backcountry to make sure that you have the skills to make up for it's shortcomings
TOP TIP: If you don’t have an avalung but you are trapped in an avalanche you can try to filtrate your breathing by inhaling through you jacket sleeve, and ex-haling down the other sleeve (if you can move that much!) – it might just save your life.
£ Most victims who survive the initial slide suffocate in the period 15 to 45 minutes after being buried. There is considerable air in an avalanche, at least closer to the surface. However if the victim isn't lucky to find himself in an air pocket the water vapour in his breath freezes in the surrounding snow. This quickly builds up an impermeable layer around the victim trapping CO2 and asphyxiating the victim. The AvaLung is an air filtration system. Oxygen enters from the front, the wearer breaths this through a tube and CO2 is expelled from the back. It serves to pre-long the time someone can be buried without suffocating. There is still the danger of hypothermia so quick rescue is still vital. There are a couple of drawbacks. The AvaLung is worn outside clothing and attention has to be paid to make sure the tube isn't compressed, say by rucksack straps. The skier also has to ride with the tube in front of their mouth.
So to complete your avalanche kit, buy a shovel and a probe. The probe is used to locate people and the shovel to dig them out. No point in having a bleeper if you don’t have either of these. And remember the additional uses for your shovel – building kickers, clearing a path, scraping the car…..the list is endless so it’s Money well spent. Ortovox are by far and away the most popular and any good ski or snowboard shop will sell them. In my opinion, there's only two shovels to chose from
£ The Pro Aluminium Shovel is light and strong in construction. It's T-shaped handle is great for fast digging which is what you need in an avalanche
£ The Economic shovel will do the job just as well and is a little cheaper
£ Ortovox's lightest full length probe features PFA (Patented Flash Assembly) making it quick an easy to deploy, it just takes one pull. Depth is marked on the outside in 5 cm divisions. Very light, nice and long and great value for money
£ the extra length of the Super Tour Probe allows you to search even the deepest burials quickly. It's the fastest probe to assemble and deploys as soon as you pull it from the bag
Buying a probe can be a little more confusing as there's a lot of different lengths and makes on the market. Essentially, the longer the better but you also want something that will assemble quickly and show you how deep someone is buried
£ Simple, lightweight and great value for money. Assembly can be more fiddly than some of the sophisticated PFA probes but this is a great choice for a first probe with a great deal of performance at a great price
Once you’ve got all your kit, go out and practice finding your transceiver and your friends. Stuff you transceiver into a plastic bag and ask someone to hide it in the snow, then try to find it as quickly as possible.
So thatâ€™s that. You should have everything you need to go and enjoy the backcountry!