Tuckerman Ravine Avalanches and a Key Snow Shovel Tip

January 25, 2016

If you’re planning on heading up to Tuckerman or Huntington Ravine, always check the latest avalanche advisory from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, which posts daily updates throughout the winter season. And if you’re hitting the slopes, make sure that everybody in your group carries the avalanche safety essentials—shovel, probe, and beacon—and knows how to use them should the worst happen.

There’s a lot to know and learn when it comes to avalanche safety and equipment, but I did want to highlight a key point about one of the essential items: your snow shovel.

Metal not Plastic!
If you have to dig out a buried avalanche victim, you will be contending with some extremely hard snow. Following an avalanche, the disturbed snow will rapidly set, or sinter, and become hard-packed and difficult to penetrate or move. It’s much more like digging through concrete than shoveling fluff.

Which is why a metal shovel blade is vastly superior when it comes to avalanche safety. A plastic blade simply does not have the strength, sharp edge, or heft needed to effectively dig through avalanche debris. So do not be tempted by lighter weight plastic versions, and definitely do not be tempted by something like a Snow Claw, which is all but useless in an avalanche rescue scenario.

My personal favorite shovels are the Voile Telepro series. I particularly recommend the styles with D-handles, which are much easier and more comfortable to use with mittens. (Most shovels feature T-handles, which I find to be difficult and uncomfortable to use with bulky gloves or mittens.)  Telepro shovels are definitely a bit heavier than other options, but well worth it in my opinion.

Stay safe out there.

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.