Skiing off-piste and exploring the backcountry gives you a fantastic sense of freedom and excitement. Still, you’re responsible for your own safety and need to be prepared for unexpected situations. Avalanches are probably the most dangerous things that can happen, and the situation gets much worse if you aren’t equipped with proper avalanche gear. Three things are necessary to take with you – a transceiver (beacon), a shovel, and an avalanche probe, which is the topic of this article.
Avalanche probes are used for probing the snow to find the victim, measure snow depth, and decide where you’re going to dig. Since a quick reaction is the most important thing in these emergencies, the best avalanche probes are quick to deploy and easy to use. In addition to this, you also want a probe that is well-made and compact when packed. Take a look at some great probes we picked out for you, and be sure to check out the buying guide and learn more about what to look for.
How To Choose An Avalanche Probe – Buying Guide
An avalanche probe is used in emergencies, so it needs to be easy to set up and use. It also needs to be strong, long enough to reach the victim under the snow, and convenient to take with you. Avalanche awareness is very important when you go to the backcountry, and it’s your responsibility to bring appropriate equipment.
An avalanche probe needs to be at least 2 meters long in order to be effective. Most victims are buried at up to 2 meters, and the survival chance is greatest when buried under 2m or less. All probes featured in our avalanche probe reviews range from 240 to 320cm, so they will perform well when you need them.
When talking about which length is best, there are two things you need to consider. A longer probe has a deeper reach (obviously) and also gives you a better grip since you can keep your hands farther apart. This makes probing more effective and reduces the chance of breaking the probe. On the other hand, a longer probe will also be heavier, which is a significant factor when you have to carry it in your ski backpack all day.
Furthermore, you need to consider the size of the probe when packed. We mentioned that it needs to be compact, meaning that it needs to fit inside your backpack. Probes usually consist of several 40cm pieces connected by a cord, but this can vary from one probe to the next so be sure to check it out.
The material used influences the strength and durability of the probe, but also its weight. Materials that are most commonly used are carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel. Carbon fiber is certainly the lightest and most convenient to carry all day. However, it’s also pretty expensive and, while it’s fairly strong, it’s more prone to breaking than the alternatives.
Aluminum probes give you perhaps the best balance between strength, weight, and price. It’s still pretty light but offers better strength, and the probe is firmer when probing harder snow. Finally, we have steel probes that are the strongest. They are also the heaviest, which is why they are usually carried only by search and rescue professionals.
If you go off-piste skiing, you want to keep things light because heavy gear will lead to fatigue faster. Since they are a part of your gear, this goes for probes too. The best avalanche probes are able to keep the weight low while still being strong and efficient while probing. However, this usually means they are more expensive too.
Ease of use
The probe needs to be ready to use in a matter of seconds, and this depends on the probe design as well as your skill level. The best avalanche search probes are ready to use almost instantly, and you deploy them by whipping them and pulling on the cord.
Some probes are compatible with transceivers (iProbe) and avalanche airbags (BCA probes), making them more efficient. Regardless of which probe you get, be sure to practice deploying it. Be sure to also practice with gloves and see how much time you need to take the probe out of the pack.
Method Of Assembly
Most probes nowadays are made from a various number of segments (usually 4 to 8) connected with a cord, and they snap together when you pull on the said cord. This is probably the most convenient type. As an alternative, there are ski poles that double as avalanche probes.
While this may seem convenient (no need to carry the probe separately), it also means you’ll lose time removing the snow basket from the pole, and the probe is going to be shorter. Whichever type you choose, make sure it’s ready to use fast.
The tip may determine the efficiency of the pole while probing (sharper or duller). A sharp tip is more efficient in penetrating the snow and requires less effort. On the other hand, duller and wider tips are able to make larger holes which can sometimes be useful in a wider search area.
The probe diameter is not universal and varies from one probe to the next. A larger ski probe diameter means that the probe is stronger and that the chance of bending or breaking is smaller. Unfortunately, this also means that the probe is heavier, so some manufacturers reduce the diameter to reduce the weight too.
Most probes come with engraved depth markings which are very important for search and rescue – these give you the info about victim depth. In multi-burial situations, victims that are shallower have a better survival chance, and you should tend to them first. The best avalanche search probes come with laser-etched markings that won’t wear off over time.
Depending on the model you get, your probe will come with or without a carry bag. While this may seem convenient, it can take some time to get the probe out of the bag (and you shouldn’t be wasting time when searching for avalanche victims). If you carry the probe in a bag, make sure to practice using it.
Q: What Is An Avalanche Probe?
Q: When Should I Use An Avalanche Probe?
A probe should be used when you’ve found the victim’s approximate location with an avalanche beacon. You start probing snow around that point until you hit the victim. The best avalanche probes increase the victim’s chance of survival, but to do so you should have a pattern when probing and avoid doing it randomly.
Q: What Are The Benefits Of An Avalanche Probe?
The obvious benefit is helping save someone’s life. A probe shows you where the victim is buried so you know where you need to dig, instead of going around and digging in the wrong spot. An added benefit is that you can measure snow depth as a part of avalanche tests to see whether an area is safe.
Globo Surf Overview
Bringing an avalanche probe when skiing in the backcountry is a smart and responsible thing to do. It’s an important piece of avalanche rescue equipment and has one of the central roles when trying to locate avalanche victims. Try to find a probe that is light and easy to carry, but that will stand up to the task if you need it. We hope that you’ll never have to use it, but avalanches are unpredictable and dangerous so it’s best to be prepared.
- Faqs – Avalanche Probes, backcountryaccess.com