Five essential gadgets for going off-piste
Skiiing and snowboarding can be a challenge, and dangerous, at the best of times - just staying upright and not breaking anything, for a lot of beginners, takes up the majority of your time.
However a lot of the dangers associated with the sport can increase dramatically the more advanced you get, as with new challenges come new risks. So if you've had a few years learning and are tempted to go for a bit of off-piste action, here are a gadgets that might just help you stay safe if you find yourself in a fix.
Mobile phone/walkie talkie/GPS
Anyone going off-piste should seriously think about taking some kind of communication device with them for obvious reasons.
With the advent of some very impressive smartphone apps, taking your mobile phone is now a pretty good option as many contain GPS systems. Although a dedicated Personal Locating Beacon (PLB) is a must. (See below)
However with mobile phones, especially smartphones, battery life is a consideration so something specialist might be preferable. Walkie talkies are also a good bet as they can be distributed throughout the group bringing instant communication if you go out of sight.
The Avalung comes into use when you've found yourself buried after an avalanche as it attempts to prevent CO2 accumulating in front of the victim.
If you haven't been killed by the trauma of being tossed around by tons of snow, the Avalung gives you a doggies' chance of survival by way of a mouth piece, a flap valve, an exhaust pipe and an air collector; the Avalung allows the user to draw breath over a large surface area in front and push the warm exhaled carbon dioxide behind.
*Note: Some Avalung packs are subject to a product recall due to safety issues; although this doesn't affect all devices. For more information you can visit the recall website at www.BlackDiamondEquipment.com/AvaLungRecall
A very important piece of kit if you're going anywhere near an avalanche zone, the ABS (Avalanche Airbag System) device acts as a preventative measure, increasing your chances of avalanche survival.
The ABS system acts as a flotation device, enabling the user to rise above the snow due to the extra buoyancy provided by two airbags. These airbags can be triggered remotely by way of a light-weight carbon cartridge and there are some pretty impressive stats being bandied around as to the survival rates of people who've deployed them during an avalanche. However they're not the easiest to travel with due to restrictions on pressurised containers in aircraft.
A snow shovel is an absolute must for anyone heading out into the white wilderness, as it can be used for a variety of very useful things.
Not only is this an essential tool in case a member of the party gets buried in an avalanche, but it can also be used to test the snowpack conditions. The shovel will allow frequent checking of the snow by digging to see what's under your feet; weak layers could result in a slide.
Shovels can also be used for digging emergency shelters (although if you have to spend the night it's probably not looking good) and whilst picking up snow with hands to use for drinking water is fine, it's a lot easier to use a shovel.
Transceivers, beacons and probes
These can work in tandem to find snow covered comrades. One for locating the general vicinity and the other to pinpoint.
The Personal Locating Beacons (PLB) or transceivers should be worn by every member of the team as it allows for your position to be transmitted and received by other members of the group - and vice versa if someone else happens to be the victim.
Keeping your device on transmit will mean if you get buried other team members can set theirs to receive, allowing you to be tracked. Once in the vicinity a probe (basically a long stick) is essential to work out precise position and depth, as well as deciding on the digging technique.
No amount of gadgetry can replace good preparation, and if you're new to off-piste skiiing or snowboarding make sure you have experienced members in your group - never go off alone. Get yourself onto a good forum like Snowheads and ask as many questions to as many different people as possible. They should be able to give you a good idea of where to go and what to buy.