(The rescue information on these pages is quite detailed. If you are short on time
or looking for a quick review, you can jump to the Avalanche
No matter how good you are at searching with
a transceiver, if you don't have a probe and shovel
the victim will probably die—the transceiver leads to the probe, the probe leads
to the shovel, and the shovel leads to the victim.
During training, it is easy to get so focused on the time that it takes to locate
the transmitter that you forget that excavating the victim is the most time-consuming
portion of most avalanche rescues.
Selecting a Shovel
(click to expand)
Even for a gram-counting backcountry skier, metal-bladed shovels are now so light
that there is no reason to purchase a plastic-bladed shovel—plastic just doesn't
have the debris-penetrating ability of metal-bladed shovels. (And yes, Lexan shovels
Perhaps the biggest difference among the many quality avalanche shovels is size:
both blade surface area and assembled shaft length. Keep in mind
that bigger is not necessarily better. When shoveling you'll be down near the snow
surface (unlike when shoveling your driveway) and an excessively large bladeful
of snow is not an efficient way to move snow. And make sure the disassembled shovel
can fit securely into your pack.
After blade size and shaft length, personal preferences comes into play:
- Check that you can assemble the shovel quickly and reliably with
your typical winter handwear.
- If you frequently wear mittens instead of gloves, you'll want
either a D-shaped handle or perhaps one of the newer offset-T designs.
- Blade shape varies considerably, with more highly sculpted designs
better for rescue and flat designs better for snowpit work.
- If your pack has limited space, you might consider a model where
the shaft stores in the blade (e.g., the
Diamond Deploy shovels).
- Some shovel shafts can accommodate a probe or snow saw (or even
emergency sled hardware for the K2 Rescue Shovel Plus), but make sure it's
a probe or snow saw that you'd buy regardless of its stow-away convenience.
- Leave your probe in the snow when it hits the victim. This will keep
you on target and reduce the likelihood that you will be standing on the victim
(who may be struggling to breathe).
- Begin digging on the downhill side of the probe at a distance of approximately
1.5 the burial depth (i.e. probe depth). This makes it easier to remove the
excavated snow and prevents the shovelers from struggling at the bottom of a
- Rotate the lead shoveler every minute or two to reduce fatigue. The
other shovelers should help by moving the discarded snow further downhill from
There are two basic shoveling strategies. Which one you choose should be based on
the number of rescuers available. Companion shoveling
is appropriate when there are a limited number of rescuers—typically one to four.
It moves the most snow with the minimum effort. When you have more resources (i.e.,
more rescuers, muscle, and calories to burn), conveyor
belt shoveling will blast through a large amount of snow rapidly.
Companion shoveling (aka "strategic
shoveling") is the technique that is used during a typical backcountry accident
or when a patroller is buried while on a control route. It is most appropriate when
there are a limited number of rescuers. The key principals are:
- If the burial depth is one-meter, begin digging one-meter downhill
of the probe. Starting downhill reduces the likelihood that you'll be standing
on the victim and allows you to discard the excavated snow.
- If the burial depth is more than one meter, begin shoveling downhill
of the victim approximately 1.5 times the burial depth.
- If you have limited resources, try to shovel snow only once.
- In burials of a meter or more, the snow should be moved to the sides
first to preserve the downhill side for snow when the excavation becomes deeper.
- If there are two shovelers, shovel side by side. If there are three
shovelers, have two shovelers up front and one behind clearing the additional
- Shovel ergonomically (i.e., use your entire body not just your arms,
kneel whenever possible, avoid bending at the waist, don't waste energy throwing
the snow further than necessary, etc).
- Depending on the density of the snow, it is usually faster to "chop
and sweep" the snow rather than to "scoop and throw" the snow.
Conveyor Belt Shoveling
If you have plenty of rescuers, the "V-Shaped Conveyor Belt" approach to shoveling
(as developed by Manuel Genswein and Ragnhild Eide)
can move a large amount of snow in a relatively short amount of time.
Click the right-arrow on the following slideshow to move through the six slides.