This is Part 2 of the ‘Choose Your Tools’ series on Gear Selection for Backcountry Skiing.
For Part 1: Introduction Click Here. Or check out the next in the series: The 7 Needs of Backcountry Travel
Backcountry skiing is an inherently hazardous activity. Many factors, including exposure, weather, speed, and most of all, avalanche hazard combine to make backcountry skiing into what is called a “risk sport”. Part of the appeal of backcountry skiing is the environment of consequence, which adds a degree of satisfaction to a day which ends uneventfully. But some elements of backcountry skiing, like avalanche hazard in particular, contain chaotic and unpredictable hazards.
These hazards come into being from two intertwined hazards. First is the snowpack, which is a source of risk which is both variable/unpredictable, as well as one which doesn’t provide good feedback on the quality of our decision making. On top of that, we humans are fallible and subject to heuristic traps, aka Human Factors. This means that we are essentially never sure of our ability to make good decisions in avalanche terrain, and as a result, most skiers choose to carry with them tools and equipment which help to reduce the consequences of poor decision making. These include, most commonly, the holy trinity of beacon, shovel, and probe.
The goal of this article is to discuss how terrain selection and avalanche hazard affect our decisions about which tools are appropriate to throw in our packs on different kinds of ski days. This discussion is followed by some example days and the tools which might be appropriate on those days. As always when in avalanche terrain: it is important that you take this information for what it is–information and not definition. Hands-on training with a professional is required and cannot be replaced by watching videos, reading books, or by articles on the web. Your own experience and judgment are of paramount importance.
Read on →