If you’re a backcountry skier and you’ve never experienced an avalanche first-hand, consider yourself lucky because chances are you’ve traveled through avalanche terrain. Unexpected slides are terrifying, and, if you’re not prepared, can lead to tragic outcomes. If you spend enough time in the mountains, a rescue scenario is more a matter of when than if, which is why ARVA has developed the equipment—think beacons, shovels, probes, backpacks and other accessories—to allow for swift and safe rescues. But the 35-year-old brand believes the best tool in the mountains is knowledge to be able to mitigate risk and avoid a rescue scenario altogether. For that reason, ARVA developed its Snow Safety Program.
Divided into three chapters, ARVA’s Snow Safety Program is a digestible introduction to snow safety and avalanche mitigation. Chapter one covers in-the-field factors like preparation, weather, terrain and route-finding. New snow, wind-loading and warming temperatures are all red flags when it comes to the stability of the snowpack and when Mother Nature dumps over 30 centimeters at once it can take up to three days for the new snow to settle. Local avalanche centers are a great resource to get an accurate assessment of avalanche danger in your area, and understanding slope angles and terrain traps will keep you out of harm’s way while traveling near slide-prone slopes.
Chapter two goes into the human factors of triggering an avalanche because research shows that more often than not, human disturbances are the cause of a slide rather than an inaccurate analysis of the snowpack. How many people and who we specifically travel with in the mountains is crucial because ability and comfort levels dictate objectives and communication styles. How much sleep we get the night before and events going on in our personal lives can negatively impact our decision-making skills and personal experience getting away with bad decisions encourages more poor decision making.
Should your crew get caught in an avalanche, understanding how to perform a rescue efficiently is crucial to the survival of those buried, which is all covered in chapter three of ARVA’s Snow Safety Program. First and foremost, a modern beacon, shovel and probe minimize equipment assembly and search times but every member of the group has to have all of these tools in order for them to be useful in an emergency. Keep in mind you only have about 15 minutes to rescue your friend who is completely buried so be sure to know how to use your equipment before taking it out into the field—avalanche rescue is not something you want to learn how to do in real-time.
At the end of each chapter, ARVA provides a multiple-question quiz to test retention of this new knowledge. While this is a great place to start your snow safety and avalanche education, we highly recommend an in-person, multi-day course from American Avalanche Institute (AAI) or American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) certified instructors. While it may seem expensive and time-consuming, there’s no replacement for your friend who doesn’t make it home because when you travel in the backcountry as a group, you’re responsible for more than just yourself.
When it comes time to purchase your own rescue equipment, it’s hard to go wrong with anything sporting the ARVA emblem. Below are a few FREESKIER favorites from the France-based brand.
Designed for “expert” level rescue professionals, the NEO PRO is ARVA’s premium transceiver with analog and standby modes, a scrolling function that allows for targeting specific victims in a search and the ability to customize the menu screen to your liking. A soft holster with an adjustable strap makes it work for skiers all shapes and sizes.
RESCUE 300 Probe
The RESCUE 300 Probe from ARVA is ideal for professionals and backcountry skiers in a consistently deep snowpack and complex terrain. The 13 mm diameter tube combined with ARVA’s Rack Lock system makes this probe extremely durable and reliable in any terrain.
Designed with professionals in mind, the PRO Shovel is capable of swift snow removal in any condition. The oval, telescopic shaft combined with a reinforced D-shape grip and high-volume heavy-duty blade makes this one of the best shovels on the market for efficiency as well as durability.
AIRBAG REACTOR FLEX 24 PRO
The AIRBAG REACTOR FLEX 24 PRO offers 24 liters of storage space—ideal for all-day excursions in the backcountry—and added reinforcements account for maximum resistance against abrasions and water. A dedicated equipment pocket makes for easy access to your snow safety gear and a FLEX FRAME base unit makes the pack customizable by switching out the cover pack to change the capacity, design or other features to better suit your style.