(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 Rescue Summary.)
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 .
The initial goal of shoveling is to expose the patient's airway and to remove snow from the patient's torso ("brow to belt") so they can breathe.
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 are plastic.)
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:
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 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.
It is important that you practice shoveling—it's the most time-consuming part of a rescue! And at a minimum, you should practice rapidly deploying your shovel every time you practice using your transceiver.