Must Haves For Avalanche Safety When Backcountry Sledding and How to Use Them

Must Haves For Avalanche Safety When Backcountry Sledding and How to Use Them

Understanding Avalanche Terrain

Before delving into the essential gear for avalanche safety, it's crucial to understand the terrain where avalanches occur. Avalanches typically happen on steep slopes with certain characteristics that make them prone to sliding. These include slopes with angles between 30 and 45 degrees, terrain features like convexities and gullies, and the presence of a weak layer within the snowpack. Before heading out on any backcountry adventure, it is always important to check the snow conditions in the area to know how to make proper judgements when you are in the backcountry. 

Must-Have Gear for Avalanche Safety

1. Beacon

An avalanche transceiver, commonly known as a beacon, is an essential piece of equipment for backcountry sledding. This device emits radio signals that can be picked up by other transceivers, aiding in the search and rescue of buried individuals in the event of an avalanche. 

Avalanche Transceiver

Ensure that everyone in your group that you are riding with, has a beacon. Whether it is your life or their life in danger, if someone does not have a beacon, they will be unable to be rescued or help rescue. 

2. Probe

A probe is a collapsible rod used to locate buried victims by probing through the snowpack. It helps rescuers determine the exact location of a buried person identified by their avalanche beacon signal.

TerraWest Probe

Once your beacon detects where the buried person is, use a probe to find their exact location. 

3. Shovel

A sturdy and lightweight shovel is essential for digging out buried victims quickly and efficiently. When every second counts in an avalanche rescue, having a reliable shovel can make a significant difference in the outcome.

Klim Shovel

Ensure that when you begin digging out someone who is buried in an avalanche, you begin digging down in diagonal line. If you dig straight down, you will not be able to rescue the buried individual from their hole. 

4. Avalanche Airbag

An avalanche airbag is a wearable safety device designed to increase the wearer's chances of staying on the surface of an avalanche. When deployed, the airbag inflates, increasing the volume of the wearer's body and reducing burial depth.

Klim Avalanche Backpack

Avalanche airbags may be a more expensive purchase when compared to a regular backpack but it is important to weigh your life against the cost. An airbag can help keep you afloat or close to the surface, decreasing the time that it takes to dig you out. Every second counts when you are trapped under an avalanche. 


What to Do If You Are Caught in an Avalanche?

Equipping yourself with the right gear is only part of avalanche safety. Proper training and education on avalanche awareness, route finding, snowpack evaluation, and rescue techniques are equally important. Knowing how to recognize avalanche terrain, interpret snowpack stability, and make informed decisions while traveling in the backcountry can help minimize the risk of accidents.

In the event of an avalanche, it's essential to act quickly and decisively. If caught in an avalanche, try to escape to the side if possible. If unable to escape, try to remain on the surface by swimming and fighting to stay on top of the moving snow. Once the avalanche comes to a stop, create an air pocket in front of your face with your hands to provide a source of fresh air while awaiting rescue.

To get proper training on avalanche safety, how to determine snow conditions, and proper rescue techniques, consider taking an avalanche safety course. You can find a course near you from Avalanche Canada


Avalanche safety is paramount when venturing into the backcountry for sledding adventures. By understanding avalanche terrain, carrying essential gear, undergoing proper training, and knowing how to respond in an emergency, sledding enthusiasts can enjoy their time in the mountains with confidence and peace of mind.

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