The X Factor

The Backcountry is an unforgiving place…Being prepared and knowing how to use your equipment properly is essential if you plan to venture out of bounds or “under the ropes.” I know too many boarders and skiers (myself included) whose confidence outweighs their knowledge about what to do in an avalanche situation or simply if you get lost in the woods.

Don’t expect a phone call…
Ortovox S-1 and F-1 Focus Transceivers


The S-1 digital transceiver has a revolutionary sensor and can search for up to four buried victims at once. The large display updates in real time and comes with an electric compass, temperature display, a slope-measuring device and a steep price. I like the extensive check function for group testing before heading out.

The analog F-1 focus has fewer bells and whistles and, in my opinion, it’s best for trained professionals such as Chuck Olbery of Hokkaido Backcountry Guides who appreciate the simplicity.

“This beacon has been around so long because it has a long range and fairly quick times for multiple burials if you are well practiced,” he says.
There is only one switch from transmit to receive mode and, in ideal conditions (a rarity), it has a range of 80 meters. Just make sure you buy an earphone, as the audible signal can be difficult to hear in windy conditions.

Web: www.ortovox.com

Buy extra time…
The Avalung


The Avalung II is a nine-ounce shoulder sling which, when used properly, allows you to breathe longer and more efficiently when buried in an avalanche. It works by diverting your exhausted air away from your fresh-air intake zone and allowing you to breathe air directly from the snow pack. Black Diamond has integrated this system into their backcountry packs and the technology works. See the Website for detailed info and hair-raising testimonials.

Buy extra time…
The Avalung


The Avalung II is a nine-ounce shoulder sling which, when used properly, allows you to breathe longer and more efficiently when buried in an avalanche. It works by diverting your exhausted air away from your fresh-air intake zone and allowing you to breathe air directly from the snow pack. Black Diamond has integrated this system into their backcountry packs and the technology works. See the Website for detailed info and hair-raising testimonials.
Web: www.avalung.com

If you want first tracks, you’re going to have to hike
MSR Denali Evo and Lightning ascent snowshoes


The Denali Evo and Lightning ascent snowshoes are what you want when the going gets steep and deep. They come in men’s and women’s sizes, and the Denalis have optional 15-centimeter flotation tails (sold separately), allowing you to fine-tune your step, depending on terrain and pack weight.

The “televator” heel lifter reduces calf fatigue, and the new stand-up binding allows easier entry and exit. The staff and owners of Lodge tabi-tabi in Hakuba wear the lightning ascent model, and they say, “The MSRs are lighter, stronger, hold tighter and have way better grip when the terrain is icy. Considering you would only need to buy them once in your life, they are well worth the extra cash.”

Web: www.msrgear.com

Leave the plastic shovels on the beach…
Shovels and Probes must be included


You may be able to build a kicker with the nose of your powder board, but it isn’t going to work for digging out your buddy when he or she could be two meters under. Mike Harris, powder guide and owner of Canyons Alpine Lodge in Minakami, Gunma, says, “Get a shovel with a strong blade and a probe of at least 250-300 centimeters.”

The compact Deploy 3 shovel and sturdier Deploy 7 shovels from Black Diamond have ergonomic handles, a strong blade and fit most backcountry packs well. The quick draw super tour probe 265 also from BD sets the standard with markings in five-centimeter intervals and completes the Anarchist pack essentials.

Web: www.bdel.com