An Avalanche of Gear for Fall ‘14


About 28 people die in avalanches in the United States each year, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and the number of deaths is generally rising.

In the past couple of years, there’s been greater concern over avalanches because more people are going into the backcountry to ski, snowboard and ride snowmobiles. During the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market trade show in January, gear makers, retailers and athletes discussed ways to educate the public and resorts can improve the safety of backcountry winter travelers. Kim Miller, CEO of Scarpa North America, pointed out that the most important piece of gear you can take into the winter backcountry is your brain.

True enough—knowledge and experience can save your life. But we’re also seeing a growing number of products to prevent you from being caught in an avalanche, or to save your life should you be swept up in one.

More Air Bags DeployedBackcountryAccessBCA_Float27Tech

A record number of brands are now offering backpacks with air bag systems to help a person float atop an avalanche of snow, rather than get trapped beneath the surface. Were seeing increased demand for traditional airbag systems, which use gas canister for inflation, such as Mammut’s new Alyeska Protection Airbag Vest ($840). It’s designed to be less bulky than a backpack system, and it allows you to place the airbag in a variety of other Mammut packs. Also, Backcountry Access rolled out new versions of its Float airbags packs that include a new trigger mechanism that’s easier to pull ($775-$925).


Black Diamond JetForce

Black Diamond has created its own inflation technology with its Jetforce airbag packs, which use a jet fan rather than a gas canister. It has launched JetForce bags in 11-, 28- and 40-liter models.

A slew of new packs now include the ABS airbag system, including the ABS Signal from Dakine ($1,250), the Ontop pack series from Deuter, the Quest 20 from Salomon ($150)and the Kode ABS from Osprey ($220).


With these new packs, manufacturers not only include the airbag system, but also compartments and pockets that make shovels, probes and other rescue equipment easily accessible.

Can You Dig It?

Black Diamond Evac 7

Black Diamond Evac 7

Even if you don’t really need a shovel for avalanche rescue, we bet you’d love to have some of the newest models on the market just because they look so cool and have such clever features. For example, the MSR Operator T shovel ($69) has a serrated edge to chop through snow and ice, and the blade is set as a 40-degree angle to the telescoping shaft to give you the optimum leverage for shoveling and scooping.

With Black Diamond’s Evac 7 shovel ($80), you can switch from a standard shovel configuration to a hoe set-up by simply flipping the blade. Made of lightweight anodized aluminum blade, the Evac 7 also has a telescoping shaft with an attachment point for a winter saw.


New Saws and Probes

Speaking of saws, that’s another product category where we’re seeing plenty of innovation. MSR’s Basecamp Snow Shelter Saw ($89) has a 55cm blade with a straight section as well as an angled section, so you never have to readjust your cutting angle. Plus the teeth are designed to cut in both directions, and the blade has a large opening to shed snow as you cut. Oh yeah, the saw also folds in half.


MSR Basecamp Snow Shelter Saw

Even snow probes are being overhauled to work more efficiently. This year, MSR is launching the 240 Striker probe ($59) that deploys quickly with a flick of the wrist. Plus, the lower section is thicker than the upper section to reduce weight and vibration. On the lower end, where the probe punches through snow, it’s 13mm in diameter, while the upper section is only 11mm in diameter.

But that’s not the only new probe built for fast deployment. This winter, Black Diamond revealed its Quickdraw 320 Carbon probe ($80), and Mammut introduced Fastlock probes with lightweight Dyneema cord that won’t stretch and wear out as quickly as other elastic materials ($55-$75).

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