Ski touring and freeride skiing, like many other outdoor sports, involve risk – the risk of injury, of getting caught up in an avalanche or even the risk of death.
Primarily, the aim is to prevent such situations altogether, through meticulous planning and by adopting responsible behavior in the backcountry. But accidents can happen, especially in the mountains. Even the most highly trained experts or experienced skiers who are extremely careful can still have bad luck, or find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
If you have the right equipment with you and know how to use it correctly in high-stress situations, most emergencies can end well. And even those buried by an avalanche can be given a second chance.
1. General safety equipment
Safety equipment encompasses your general safety equipment and avalanche-specific safety equipment.
Luckily, avalanches rarely happen, and many backcountry skiers go through life without ever having to deal with one. You’re much more likely to sustain an injury from a fall or collision, or get into trouble due to bad weather or navigation issues. In such cases, the general safety equipment you carry in your pack in summer too, will help.
- Cell phone
- First aid kit
- Bivy bag/ emergency shelter
Depending on the situation and your personal preference, you should also decide whether everyone is going to carry all their own safety equipment in their backpacks or whether it’s going to be divided among individuals in the group.
Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. If you carry your own (1-person) bivy bag and first aid kit with you, then you can access them if, for example, you’re suddenly on your own after taking a wrong turn somewhere, or you’re on the summit ridge on your own, while the others are back at the ski depot.
If you split a bigger selection of first aid equipment and (2-3-person) bivy bags among the group members, then some will have less to carry and can pack a rope or similar as well.
2. Avalanche-specific safety equipment
Avalanche safety equipment includes an avalanche transceiver, a shovel and a probe.
- Avalanche transceiver
3. Recommended personal safety equipment
An avalanche airbag is part of your person safety equipment
The general safety equipment we’ve mentioned so far, only comes into play in an emergency. These items give you a better chance of survival (transceiver), and in particular your touring partners a better chance too (transceiver, probe, shovel).
Mountain sports organizations, alpine associations and ski gear manufacturers recommend you also carry the following personal safety equipment with you to help in case of an emergency:
- Avalanche airbag
In areas where snow is thin on the ground or when moving over rocky/ forested terrain, a helmet protects your head in case of a fall or collision. Freeride skiers will tend to opt for heavier models with the highest safety standards, while ski tourers will choose a more lightweight model that takes up less space.
An avalanche airbag is designed to prevent burial in an avalanche or to ensure minimized burial of an avalanche victim. In an ideal scenario, it would mean there’s no need to search, probe and dig for victims because they are visible on the surface of the avalanche once it draws to a stop. The effectiveness of airbags is well documented and significantly reduces fatality from burial in an avalanche (from 22% to 11%; ref. Haegeli et. al., 2014). How well an airbag works depends, among other things, on the terrain and whether it is triggered at the correct time. Doing this properly is something that has to be practiced. Which is where electronic fan-based airbag systems have the edge. These do not require cartridges to be replaced or sent away. It’s only the battery that needs to be charged (and that’s only required after multiple deployments).
The PIEPS FIRST AID PRO is a kit for administering first aid on the move. Filled with high-quality contents including a flexible alu-synthetic splint, it’s specifically designed for outdoor activities and neatly organized across two compartments. An emergency headlamp, such as the Flare Headlamp from Black Diamond, would be another great addition.
- Easy updates and device setting via App and Bluetooth
- Wide, circular 60 m coverage for fast and stable initial signal reception
The PIEPS POWDER SERIES is designed for a wide range of users from weekend ski touring fans to ski mountaineers or freeride skiers. Devices in this series offer intuitive handling and exclusive PIEPS safety technology at a price point that’s keen for the level of performance too.
In send mode, the lithium batteries of the PIEPS POWDER BT offer an operating time of at least 300 hours.
The PIEPS BIVY is an essential piece of safety kit for you and your mountain buddy – it can even save lives. It’s hard wearing, silver coated on the inside, is easy to pack away, compact, and with reinforced eyelets is also multipurpose:
- as a bivy bag
- for makeshift emergency evacuation system (drag bag & emergency stretcher)
- for various uses during a ski tour (e.g. sit mat, sun shield, rain poncho)
The JETFORCE BT’s innovative technology allows for multiple deployments and the convenience of recharging your airbag at home. You don’t have to worry about sourcing replacement cartridges and can practice your deployment technique as often as you like, without incurring any costs. The option of multiple deployments means you can deploy it, even if not 100% certain the situation calls for it. Better safe than sorry, as they say.
The popular PIEPS ALU SPORT is a telescopic probe that’s quick and easy to extend.
- Speed-Cone-System for quick and straightforward extension
- Quick release latch to secure the probe in place
- Scale in centimeters to read depth of victim or for snow profiles.
- Elasticated buckle strap to keep it compact when packed away
- Compact size for storage
The PIEPS SHOVEL C660 with telescopic handle and C-shaped grip is the perfect shovel for any rescue situation. It’s lightweight, yet very tough.
- Hoe function (90-degree-angle blade)
- Non-slip footrest zone
- Anti-slip handle for better grip
- Raised spine along middle of blade
- Built-in bottle opener
Special coating for durability in extreme conditions
- Sharpened edges
- Rescue sled function