In an article about the V-Shaped Snow Conveyor, which discusses a fast and strategic system for digging out a buried avalanche victim, avalanche instructor and researcher, Manuel Genswein wrote:

“This test was not conducted to systematically test avalanche shovels. However, valuable observations were made regarding different models of shovels. All rescuers received detailed instructions in the correct use of each shovel. Not one single shovel failed due to incorrect use. Plastic shovels serve the purpose of merely “having a shovel” but usually fail before reaching the first meter of depth. Light metal-alloy shovels need to be hardened by a metallurgical or temperature process, as the majority of those metal-alloy shovels from prominent manufacturers were seriously bent after little use. The front edge cannot end in a triangle with one exposed tip, since that will bend and deform the entire blade after continued stress. Collapsible handles have a clear advantage because of the increased length of the shaft, but the two parts must sufficiently overlap in the extended state. By creating a second hole this doubling can be increased. A D-shaped (curved) grip proved to be superior to a T-shaped grip.”

We thought knowing what Genswein had learned about specific shovels while performing deep extractions in very hard snow was important. What good is a shovel that bends or breaks when crisis strikes? This would be a catastrophe for the victim, an emotional nightmare for you.

Genswein sent us this shovel article which we think is worth reading. Most of the shovels he tested in hardened debris fit into the domain of the bad and the ugly.

Photo Below: Avalanche debris like this separate the good shovels from the ugly.

The only shovels that received his nod of approval were made of 6061 aluminum alloy and also had T6  heat treatment. Genswein thinks buyers need to be suspicious of  shovels that don’t specifically state they’re made of 6061 alloy and have T6 heat treatment. Of the shovels Genswein used (by no means a comprehensive list) the shovels that survived his punishing treatment and received a ‘good’ rating were the G3 AviTech D-Grip shovel, Voile TelePro T6, Voile XLM Pro, and Voile XLM. All these shovels used 6061 alloy with T6 treatment and all parts (scoop, shaft, handle) withstood the abuse of continued chopping through hard and frozen snows. Testers had minor complaints about each shovel, but these tools did not fail. Furthermore, some of the good shovels were no heavier than the plastic shovels carried by super weight conscious skiers. Genswein found the plastic shovels he tested to be terrible for contending with hard avalanche debris.

Obviously a number of shovel manufacturers are not happy about this article and criticize it. One manufacturer told us much about Genswein’s findings had been debunked, “His shovel tests were performed on work-hardened snow that was then set up overnight. These are not normal conditions for avalanche debris in a companion rescue. Genswein’s research has always centered around organized rescue, not companion rescue… ”

In general, we agree with the idea that for companion rescues taking place right after a slide, the snows can be adequately chopped by most aluminum shovels without risk of failure. And yet over the years we’ve also seen quite a few slides and almost been hit my several slides started by cornices where lots of the debris that might have overrun one or several members of the party was extremely hard and could have realistically caused shovel failure in a companion rescue.

We’ve also had experiences leveling out tent platforms on hard, frozen glaciers where the ability to step on the top of shovel’s scoop or chip with the corner of it’s leading edge (as described in the article) would make the job easier with the right shovel and ruin the wrong shovel.

So the question we ask is this: Why not make sure your shovel can handle all possibilities? At a cost of $40 to $50 for several different models of Voile shovels with the T6 heat treatment, you’re not paying more for added versatility and added peace of mind. For all around ski-touring versatility (reasonable weight, packable size, functional handle, and a good price) we think the MiniTelepro T6 Avalanche Shovel (1 lb 9 oz, $48) hits the best sweet spot.

This article was originally published on 1/15/11 by WenOut Staff.

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