avalanche probe

Avalanche probe : why not just use your ski pole?

You’re off into the backcountry.off into the backcountry

You pack up your avy backpack.

You look at the avalanche probe and then at your ski pole.

Nah…let’s save some weight.

Right we’re off.

Halfway through the journey one of your buddies steps on a slab which lets go.

Avalanche beacon out and into receive mode, you locate him.

What depth?

Using your pole you probe, but….

Now this is just a story, but it could be real life.

Let’s have a look at why you should carry your avy trio – transceiver, probe and shovel every time you go into the backcountry.

A ski pole is under 3 feet (1m) in length – an average burial is 1m so the chance of being able to find them with the probe decreases or it taking a lot longer increases.

So it really is false economy not to carry your avalanche probe.

Let’s have a look at what you are carrying.

What to look for in an avalanche probe

avalanche probe
avalanche probe in use

Length – what length do you ideally need

Material- what material is best

Functionality – what else is there.

Length – what is the ideal length

So we have discussed why ski poles really are not good enough to act as avalanche probes – so what length do we need.

For your average skier or rider who gets caught in an avalanche they will not be buried deeper than 1m (3ft).

On top of that length you need to be able to push the probe into the snowpack.

So you need a good 1m (3ft) for two hands separated and pushing down.

So a minimum of a 2m ( 6ft) probe.

If you spend a lot of time in the pow then you maybe seeing a deeper burial than that – yes the pow is not as packed but maybe deeper, so a longer probe would be better. A 2.4m( 8ft) probe or even a 3m (10ft) probe would be better, but does increase the weight.

Shorter than 2m and you maybe struggling and have to dig and probe, dig and probe wasting valuable time to save your companion.

 Material- what should they be made of

You really have three choices of material.

  • Aluminum
  • Carbon fibre
  • and Steel.

You are trading features off against each other.

If you want the lightest weight then go for carbon probes- but at a price.

If you want what the professionals use – then go for steel – but you are adding weight.

If you want something between the two – then maybe an aluminum probe is the one to go for.

Heavier than carbon, but lighter than steel.

Least costly option.

All of these materials are durable enough for the conditions and fit for purpose.

They will withstand the freezing conditions and the exertion to probe the snowpack.

Functionality- what else

So we have talked through length and material – what else could there be.

How about markings – knowing quickly and easily how deep your buddy is will help with the next stage of the rescue.

So clear and permanent markings would be very useful.

Ease of assembly.

After you have used your receiver to locate the buried victim then you need to probe to verify the location.

So off with the avy pack and out with the probe.

Throw it out while pulling on the cord and arghh it didn’t assemble correctly.

That is something you really don’t want.

So an easy to operate assembly system in gloved hands.

To be fair most of the probes are easy to assemble, but you must practice with them.

Take it out into the garden and use it a few times and get used to how it operates.

Do you have a large pull handle and where does the cord lock

Do you need to detach anything.

Final words

So there you go the main criteria for selecting an avalanche probe over a ski pole.

The main one being that there is a good chance the pole will not be long enough, you will not be able to get enough depth or takes too long to assemble.

So the selection criteria for an avalanche probe is based on four things.

Length, material, operation and depth markers.

Let me know what probe you chose and why in the comments below.

Have you used it, did it perform as you expected in the field.

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