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The Holiday Gift Guide to Holistic Avalanche Gear

The Holiday Gift Guide to Holistic Avalanche Gear
By Jake Gaventa

The holiday season coincides with dark and cold winter days. At this time of year, I don’t dream of sugar plums. I dream of cold, light fluffy snow sparkling in low-angle sunbeams on still mornings. It’s the season of giving and holiday vacations. It’s also the beginning of the backcountry season and the perfect opportunity to upgrade your avalanche gear. Here are a few of my favorite items.

The author regretting his hydration level and decision- making high above Chamonix, France. Photo J. Gaventa

Skratch
In the backcountry, as in life, good decision-making starts with proper hydration. Every cell in our body, including our brain, needs liquid. Research shows that even dehydration of less than two percent of our body mass affects our cognitive function. More here. Skratch can also be an early morning antidote to over-indulgent holiday gatherings! My favorite flavor is pineapple, because, how often do you have a pineapple flavor?

Buff
Do you like wind blowing in your ears and freezing your cheeks, or the sun burning your neck? Then a buff is not for you. But if you want to travel safely through Colorado’s high, windy and sunny elevations, then get a buff. We make better decisions when we are in relative comfort. Is a buff a hat or a neck gator? I don’t know, but it works as both and fits nicely under a helmet. Buffs are also great for cleaning goggles, sunglasses or pot grips, or acting as an emergency glove. 

IFMGA Guide Chris Marshall assigning a slope angle to the obvious avalanche clues. Photo- J. Gaventa

BCA Inclinometer
Identifying avalanche terrain is a vital skill in the backcountry. This should not be a guess. You should not start with the phrase “I think it is only (blank) degrees…’’. So many things in life are unmeasurable. Let’s take advantage of what IS quantifiable. Yes, there are free mobile phone apps. However, cold environments often make phone batteries untrustworthy. I find touchscreen technology cumbersome to use with gloves and I want to save my battery life for serious social media spray. Inclinometers are cheap and you should own one. Keep it handy by putting it in the pocket of your ski pants during your tour. Also, you can use an inclinometer as a makeshift ski scraper when you get into sudden ‘hot pow’ conditions or to scrape ice off your skins after you blow the creek crossing. Buy one. You need it.

BCA Tracker 3
So you got an avalanche beacon ten years ago, then you had knee surgery, then kids, and it has hardly been used… So it should be like new, right? Wrong. Time to upgrade. Electronic technology has been rapidly advancing while your beacon has been sitting dormant. The older a beacon, the more likely it is to suffer from ‘frequency drift’ away from 457kHz. This makes it harder for your partner to find you! Modern beacons rely on three antennae technology to model a three-dimensional search pattern, helping to eliminate ‘spikes’. The BCA Tracker 3 is a sleek, low-volume three antennae beacon with advanced search modes to aid multiple burial scenarios. I like BCA because they are headquartered in Boulder and have very helpful customer service. In avalanche country you want your ski partner to have a nicer beacon than you so this makes an ideal gift! Of course, you also need to know how to use a beacon. See ‘avalanche training’ below.

BCA RS EXT Avalanche Shovel
Believe it or not, avalanche shovels have been advancing in recent years. Modern shovels are reasonably light, strong, have sharp blades, and give the option of ‘hoe’ digging. The BCA RS EXT shovel has all of these features and is my favorite workhorse. Shoveling during an actual avalanche burial can be the longest and most strenuous stage of companion rescue. For the relatively low price, don’t you want modern features on your side of survival?

A ski strap holding skis in a tight bundle on my backpack during a midwinter Elk Range ski traverse. Unfortunately these handy things can’t carry your pack…Photo- M. Soucy

Ski Strap
While not specifically avalanche tools, ski straps are indispensable in backcountry travel. From fixing a broken binding, to fabricating a rescue sled, emergency shelter or tourniquet, these are handy little things. I usually have four to five in my kit. They also help strap skis and poles together into tight bundles. This helps you avoid looking like a raging junk show when you meet at your local coffee shop to carpool. These make great stocking stuffers and can also be used to attach additional gifts to bulging stockings!

Getting training is the backbone to avalanche safety. Photo J. Gaventa

Avalanche Training
Material goods cannot replace training. When you consider the cost of outdoor equipment, the price of education is very low. skis lose their spring(s?), bindings break, backpacks wear out, and outerwear drifts out of style. Your training stays with you. It grows with you. It forms the foundation on which you observe, reflect and make decisions. Avalanche training is also an excellent way to meet other recreationalists. It ties the threads of our snow community into a web. Colorado Mountain School is our local provider and is an excellent source for mountain training.