For most snowboarders, trekking off piste into the back country with endless runs of fresh, waist-deep powder is the dream. However, hooning around in the deep stuff is not without its perils.
First of all, there’s the antsy ski patrol, determined to stop ze rost biffs from having some hard-earned fun. On top of that, there’s also the realisation that you’re not Nico Müller as you bury your nose and eat seventeen metric tones of shit.
Arguably the most pressing danger, however, is the risk of getting caught in an avalanche. Although warning systems have become increasingly accurate, avalanches remain a constant risk for backcountry riders. Being prepared, though, can significantly alter the odds of survival in your favour.
From beeps to probes to specialised backpacks, there is all kinds of avalanche survival equipment on the market these days. They can save your life, but at a price.
So, how do you make the most of such a costly investment in case of your own mortality? Here’s our guide to using your avalanche safety equipment when you’re away from the mountains…
Transceivers are little devices that transmit or receive (or both, in the case of the flashy modern ones) radio signals. Should you or a buddy find yourself trapped under meters of debris from an avalanche, transponders, or “beeps” as many people call them, are used to find you quickly, even when buried.
You don’t have to be ball-deep in snow to be able to lose people. Maybe you’ve got one of those annoying friends who wonders off when you’re in the middle of Spatulas (or whatever the shit nightclub in your town is called).
Sneak a transponder into their pocket or handbag and you’ll be able to track them down when they conveniently go missing just as it’s their turn to get the Woo-Woo pitchers in.
In fact, a transceiver is perfect for anybody that likes to potter off unannounced. Be it an elderly relative on the run from the retirement home, or a wayward teen late for curfew as they try smoke some tarragon they bought from a boy in sixth form.
Hit them up with beeps, and you’re getting value for money, 52 weeks a year.
Probes are essentially long, thin sticks used for pinpointing the exact location of a buried avalanche victim. They’re also useful for measuring the exact depth of snow. Probes are usually collapsable, so they can be tucked away neatly into your backpack.
A foldaway probe could quite easily become a foldaway riding crop for the kinky pervert in your life. Actually, if that’s what floats your leather-clad boat, your probe could just be used to explore cavities other than holes in the snow.
If that’s not you thing, then avalanche probes can still be useful, every day of the year. Perhaps you’re one of those people who struggles to reach the beans on the top shelf in the supermarket, your probe is there to save you.
Simply piece it together, and point longingly at the tin of your desire, until somebody with a fixed grin comes to get them down for you.
Your probe also acts as a perfect, fully portable spare lance, should you fancy a bit of jousting but have stupidly left your main weapon at home. Handy.
A good snow shovel is essential when your out in the back country. They’re designed to strong enough to dig out anybody stuck under the snow following an avalanche, but they’re also light and compact enough to fit into a good sized backpack.
When else could you possibly want a fold away shovel? When you’re urban gardening, that’s when.
Imagine you and a few friends are out, the sun has long since set, and you get the urge to plant a quick herbaceous boarder. We’ve all been there, right?
Gone are the days of digging soil with your bare hands. Just pack your fold away shovel and your nocturnal green-fingered dreams will become a reality.
Failing that, they’re really handy to have in the back of your car should you get stuck on a beach or in a festival car park/mud-pit. Neither of which, however, give you the same primal thrill as some late-night landscaping.
Emergency blankets are those reflective blankets used to maximise the wearers body-warmth after they’ve been rescued from an avalanche. Wrap an avalanche survivor in an emergency blanket and the heat your body radiates will immediately be redirected back to the wearer, rapidly increasing the chance of survival.
A bit paranoid? Think that all hairdressers are in the employment of the government because hairs are your aerials that let you communicate with the cosmos? Ride LibTech boards?
You need an avalanche blanket. The shiny coating doesn’t just keep body-heat in, but it will also reflect away the signals sent from the satellites to mess with your head. Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not after you.
Inflatable air bag
Avalanche experts (and those lucky enough to have chanced surviving one) liken the sensation of being caught in one to drowning. When you think of an avalanche as tones of snow falling on you at 150mph, it’s easy to see why.
Inflatable air bags are designed to give the wearer buoyancy, helping them to float to the top of the debris as it crashes down around them.
As the world becomes more and more crowded, personal space is becoming an increasingly rare commodity. Be it on a busy commuter train, in the discotheque, or waiting for a free self service checkout in the shop, it’s hard to go anywhere without a bunch of grubby urchins literally breathing down your neck.
But no more! Don your avalanche backpack, fitted with an air bag, and just as these space invaders get close, inflate. Within a couple of seconds, you will have increased your overall volume courtesy of a large, brightly coloured balloon that will act as a buffer against these other mouth-breathers. Either that or avoid showering or a month. It’ll be cheaper.