Shit happens, even on gorgeous bluebird days when the pow is deep and stoke-factor high. We make emotional decisions in unforgiving terrain and, before we know it, are being swept downhill by uncontrollable forces. Being caught in an avalanche is like being hit by a car or washed away by a flash flood. Tons of debris rush downhill at speeds of up to 100 mph, bruising, battering and quite possibly burying anyone unlucky enough to be swept up. You can be strained through trees, tumbled against rocks or tossed over a cliff. If you’re lucky, you’ll get away with your life and a new respect for the mountains.
Gear is only one part of the avalanche safety and rescue equation. Trained professionals — some of them dogs — are responsible for rescuing people in distress. We spent a day with the dogs of Brighton Avalanche Rescue K-9 (B.A.R.K.) in Utah. Read the story
In the US, avalanches kill an average of 28 people each year, and those numbers are increasing along with the popularity of backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Four of the deadliest seasons have occurred in the past seven years, and the trend only promises to continue. But there are steps we can take to increase our safety when traveling in the backcountry. Avalanche safety tech — probes, shovels, beacons, airbags and the like — has evolved a great deal over the past couple of decades as backcountry sports have grown in popularity. Here we’ve sorted out the best gear to help you survive an avalanche, as well as some tools to help you better understand the snowpack and avoid avalanches in the first place.
But no safety gear is an adequate substitute for knowledge and good decision-making. The most important thing you can bring into the backcountry is a bit of education and some common sense. Take an avalanche safety course (AIARE and AAI are best) so you know the basics. Check the local avalanche forecast, and learn to evaluate the snowpack where you’re skiing. But if all that fails you and you still find yourself in hazardous terrain — or, worse, caught in an avalanche — consider this kit your backup plan.