Munich - Anyone with a passion for exploring the backcountry on alpine touring skis or snowshoes must also address the issue of avalanche safety gear. Beacon, probe, avalanche backpack, shovel – which equipment is necessary and what aspects should potential buyers look out for? TÜV SÜD's sports equipment experts give some insights.
Everyone keen on touring the backcountry in winter should inform themselves about the necessary equipment in advance and in depth. Information is best obtained from alpine associations and clubs. One key rule is never to venture off-piste alone. And even experienced touring skiers and snowshoers are well advised to check their equipment repeatedly and practise its use.
Three is the magic number. An avalanche beacon, also known as an avalanche transceiver or peeps, can indicate a victim's position in the avalanche. However, to pinpoint the exact location quickly you need an avalanche probe. The third "life saver" is a good, solid shovel for quickly rescuing the victim. To provide further care for rescued victims, tour-goers should also carry a first-aid kit, a bivvy bag and a mobile phone in their backpacks.
Intuitive operation is key. Operation of the avalanche transceiver should be as self-explanatory as possible. Potential buyers should opt for a triple-antenna receiver with digital function. Transceiver operation should also be possible while wearing gloves, and the display should be as bright and clear as possible. In addition, the transceiver must be easy and comfortable to wear.
Reliable function and perfect command. The batteries of the avalanche transceiver must always be fully charged. All tour members must have practised the use of their "peeps" and be well versed in their operation.
An airbag provides added safety. Ambitious touring skiers or snowshoers might do well to invest in significantly enhanced safety by buying an airbag system. The system is built-into a backpack and uses a nitrogen cylinder with a ripcord to inflate the airbag. The increased buoyancy provided enables the skier to float on the avalanche instead of being buried under it. An airbag backpack costs around 700 euros. A TÜV SÜD GS mark can provide guidance in helping buyers to select the right avalanche airbag.
Tested shovels are top. After an avalanche, the avalanche debris sets quickly and "cures" as hard as concrete. This means cheap shovels will quickly reach their limits and snap. Given this, TÜV SÜD's experts recommend choosing a shovel with a TÜV SÜD quality label. The handle should offer the option of attachment to the blade at a 90-degree angle to allow for a chopping action, i.e. the shovel should be able to be used as a pickaxe. Premium aluminium shovels are lightweight and stable and can thus be recommended in most instances.
Safely locked: An avalanche probe should be at least 240 to 250 cm long and have an easy-to-operate fast-lock system. But which material? Carbon offers the best properties in terms of weight and stability.
Have you thought of everything? Backpack and helmet are important for touring skiers and snowshoers. The right backpack has accessory patches, loops and ski slots to carry equipment such as skis/snowshoes, poles and ice axe/shovel outside the pack – all aspects that should be considered when selecting a backpack.
Knowledge is safety: But the right equipment alone is not enough – all tour members must also be thoroughly familiar with its use. Mountain associations, sports clubs and similar institutions offer courses to practise the use of avalanche safety equipment. Another important aspect is to obtain detailed information such as weather forecasts, terrain reports and avalanche bulletins before setting out on a tour. Touring skiers or snowshoers who feel uncertain are best advised to opt for a tour led by an experienced tour-goer or mountain guide.