If you're heading off the beaten track and getting some of that well sought after pow, you're going to need to do a little planning. Read our guide to powder and avalanche gear that's going to keep you warm and potentially save your life in the backcountry.
The number one essential item is an avalanche transceiver, also known as a beacon or ‘peeps’. Everyone in your group should carry one.
Transceivers continuously send out a signal that allows you to be located in case you are buried in a slide. If a companion is buried then you can switch from transmit to receive and begin the search. It’s vital you learn how to use it and practice regularly.
Be sure to wear your transceiver properly, using the harness to secure it to your body. Don’t just place it in a pocket, since outerwear can be ripped off by the force of an avalanche.
A good freeride backpack will be lightweight and slim in profile, with both a waist and chest strap to keep it secure.
Look for a slimline model with straps for attaching your board during a hike. If you’ve got the dollar, then an airbag pack such as the ABS brand could be a very worthwhile investment. These contain an inflatable bag that you deploy by pulling a handle if you’re caught in a slide. The aim is to give you much more surface area so that you do not sink under the snow, thus increasing your chances of survival.
Once you've got that sorted, the first item inside should be your shovel. Avalanche shovels can be broken down into smaller parts for stowage and are made from tough, light materials like aluminium. Some brands will also include a saw blade within the handle to cut into hard snow or make huge building blocks for your kicker.
Whatever you choose, keep both the blade and handle inside your pack even if you have special design features for them on the outside, as they can get ripped off in a tumble.
Using a shovel massively reduces the time it takes to dig someone out, improving their chances of survival.
Next up is the probe. This is a lightweight, extendable pole that is used to pinpoint the exact position of the buried victim once the transceiver has narrowed down the search to an area of snow. The probe is plunged into the snow in a grid-like pattern. When you've found the victim, it's left in place as a marker.
Again, it greatly speeds up any search and is an essential item to include.
Hiking in powder can be hard-work, so always pack some energy bars or other snacks.
To stay hydrated, an aluminium or stainless steel water bottle is a lighteight option that won't get crushed. Alternatively, use a camelback system.
A spare goggle lens will come in super handy should the visibility change or you take a slam that fills your goggles with snow.
Next up, bring a small first aid kit in case of accidents, and a binding tool to help fix any loose straps or bolts.
Walkie-talkies are a useful addition to your kit. Phone signal is not always reliable in the mountains, and radios like the ones shown below allow regular communication about line selection and hazards.
That said, do also bring your mobile phone in case of emergency. Keep it in a pocket away from your transceiver to prevent interference, and store the number of the local mountain rescue service.
Finally, always pack a spare layer in case conditions should change or you find yourself caught out on the mountain.
If you’re serious about spending time off-piste then buy the best jacket and pants you can afford. We don’t mean the trendiest, but the highest spec in terms of waterproof/breathability. Look for a rating of 15,000 and above; ‘Gore-Tex’ is the ultimate. Powder days are usually the coldest days, and you WILL be spending a lot of time floundering around in the snow, so it pays to stay dry. Oh, and while it might be cool to ride rails in jeans these days, denim SUCKS in powder.
You’re ready to hit the mountain.
Remember: your equipment is only as good as the person using it. So learn how to use it properly – and make sure your friends do the same.
The shovel and probe are often overlooked as of secondary importance. However, statistics gained through tests show that for a metre-deep burial of a single victim, all three items are essential if you are to uncover them within the magic 15 minutes:
A. Only a transceiver - 60+ mins
B. Transceiver and probe – 50mins
C. Transceiver and shovel – 26mins
D. Transceiver, shovel and probe – 16mins
Read our guide to avalanche survival for more information on how to stay safe out in the backcountry.
Ready to buy? Check out the latest backcountry gear at Surfdome.