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Dino Haak

Professional Ski Expert

Avalanche Shovels

Featured On:

  • SkiMag
Backcountry skiing is definitely big in the Pacific Northwest, and here in Seattle, we have great access to some fantastic backcountry property right at our doorstep. Snoqualmie’s Alpental, a 50-minute drive from the city, offers spectacular backcountry runs (and you can always make it back to the lifts, no need to be picked up on the side of the road). Many backcountry skiers choose to carry an avalanche shovel for the event of an avalanche. As one never should enter the backcountry by oneself, the shovel is primarily intended to dig out your partner if he or she gets into an avalanche, but it is also used to build shelter platforms if you choose to do an overnight excursion, or to dig into the layers of snow for a snowpack study to determine avalanche danger.

When buying an avalanche shovel, make sure that it is not made of plastic. Plastic shovels are just not sturdy enough, especially if you have to dig through icy debris. Make sure to get a quality shovel that does not weigh too much because a shovel that is too heavy can become burdensome. Most quality shovels are either made of aluminum or polycarbonate; however, most backcountry folks will tell you that aluminum is the only way to go as it is the only available material that can slice through crud and ice. Therefore all shovels reviewed are made of aluminum.

You should be able to easily transport a shovel in (or on the outside of) your backpack without restricting your movements, which is usually easily accomplished by choosing a telescoping or segmented handle design. There are shovels with T-grips, D-grips and L-grips, the shape of the letters describing the shape of the actual handle grips. I had a chance to dig with all three handle shapes and prefer the D-shape, but that is just a matter of taste.

At Alpental, you see lots of backcountry skiers standing in line with their backpacks including the obligatory avalanche snow shovel. To help complete this review I had the chance to talk to numerous backcountry enthusiasts, finding out which shovels are most preferred. The shovels listed below were all recommended by avid backcountry skiers, professional stores, or members of ski patrol. In addition, I did a little shoveling myself for a more comprehensive review.

Best Avalanche Snow Shovels by Dino Haak

The Best You Can Get

  • Life-Link's Alpine Pro

    Dino says: This lightweight shovel (less than two pounds) is already a classic as it was recommended to me by at least three backcountry enthusiasts. This is because it is first of all small and lightweight but at the same time virtually indestructible. It comes with a guarantee of being unbreakable, at least if you are using it for what it is to be used for: shoveling snow. And that is where it excels; even the heaviest and wettest snow won’t bend or break this reliable piece of gear. A powder-coated aluminum blade keeps the rust away and insures minimal wear. What is really nice is that it is featuring a telescoping shaft that can be extended to up to 42 inches in length. If you have to shovel snow for a long time, you will soon appreciate a longer handle (at least your back will).

    • Telescoping T-grip
    • Great for wet and heavy snow
    • Comes with “Unbreakable” guarantee
    • Coated rust- and wear-resistant aluminum blade
    • 42” length extendible shaft
  • Backcountry Access Companion Telescoping D-Handle Avalanche Snow Shovel

    Dino says: This is another shovel that seems to be a hit among Alpental’s backcountry fans. It is a very lightweight shovel with a strong aluminum shaft and blade. The unique thing about it is that if you should become part of an avalanche rescue mission and don’t know what to do, you’ll only have to look as far as the shovel scoop. There you’ll find printed instructions on how to proceed to conduct an avalanche rescue search pattern. The back of the blade is flattened to facilitate snow-pack stability testing. Such tests, e.g. the “Rutschblock” test, help to determine how stable the snow-pack is on a given day, i.e. how high or low avalanche danger should be set to. A shovel is needed to isolate a column of snow on which you then exert stress (for example you stand on it) in order to see how much pressure it takes to fracture a weak layer in the snow-pack. A flattened shovel makes it easier to cut into the layers of snow. For accessories, you can buy an optional foldable avalanche probe that can be stored in the shovel’s handle.

    • Lightweight
    • Avalanche rescue search pattern instructions printed on scoop
    • Strong aluminum blade
    • Flat-backed shovel blade for snow-pack stability testing
    • Oval shaft for increased stability
  • SOS Snow Shovel with Avalanche Rescue Probe In Handle

    Dino says: SOS (Survival on Snow) shovels offer exceptional versatility as various types of handle designs can be added to the original aluminum blade. The blade is made of high grade durable aluminum and includes two holes on each side of the blade’s edge to attach rope for use as an emergency sled or dead-man’s anchor. You can purchase the package combo of blade and handle with your preferred handle type in mind, but you can always order additional handles depending on your needs. The handle grip is always L-shaped, but the basic handle design will give you a basic straight shaft. With the Regular handle design the shaft becomes telescoping to add length for easier shoveling. The Deluxe design hides an almost foot-long snow saw inside its telescoping shaft. The saw is attached to the L-grip and can be easily extracted from the shaft. The Pro handle version adds a few inches to the included saw which is also thicker overall and sturdier than the Deluxe saw. There is also a new package offered by SOS that includes a foldable avalanche probe inside the shaft that can be extended to a professional 240cm (94.5 inches).

    • Lightweight, reinforced aluminum blade
    • Option to purchase handles with various functions
    • Highly durable
    • Compact
  • G3 AviTECH D-Grip

    Dino says: The greatest feature of the G3 Avi-Tech D-Grip is the ability to use three different shovel configurations: telescoping, collapsed, and mini-mode. The shaft comes in two sections of different length (one is telescoping, one is not) and you can choose between either using the two pieces separately, the small piece for a mini shovel shaft, the longer telescoping piece for a medium sized shaft. Or you can combine both pieces together for the longest possible telescoping handle. Another cool feature is that this shovel has a built-in predetermined breaking point located in the lower shaft tube, so under considerable stress the blades won’t break, but one of the shaft tubes will. The shovel will still remain usable, however. All you need to do is take out the broken shaft piece and keep shoveling with the remaining shaft section. I also am told that one of the handle pieces can be used for dry-stash storage. Overall one of the most versatile shovels I have seen so far.

    • 34-inch extending shaft
    • Choice of full or half sized handle
    • Highly durable construction
    • Predetermined breaking point
  • Chugach Pro EXT Shovel by BCA

    Dino says: The Chugach Pro EXT Shovel is, like the name implies, a professional grade shovel. I had the chance to try it out on a warm day (at the Alpental parking lot) when the snow was nice wet and heavy. After I had a chance to try a few different shovels in the course of this review, I must say that I was more than pleasantly surprised about how sturdy this one feels. The oval shaped design makes the shaft very durable and adds increased strength. The Chugach has a big blade, which is flattened at the bottom, and enables you it move heaps of snow at a very fast rate. It is a bit bigger than most of the shovels I tested, but in case you need to be part of an avalanche rescue, you know you’ll be highly prepared.

    • Great strength-to-weight ratio
    • Integrated avalanche probe
    • Big blade
    • 42-inch oval shaft (extended)
    • Reversible offset grip

You will be happy with any of these

  • Black Diamond Deploy Snow Shovel

    Dino says: This shovel is uniquely shaped with a trapezoidal curved shaft structure. It is very lightweight and nicely packable due to a sliding mechanism that places the shaft inside the shovel scoop. Since nothing ever needs to be detached, this shovel can be used within seconds. Deploy’s grip is also unique, a mix of a T- and D-grip that makes for easy holding with or without gloves or mittens. Even though the shaft is comparatively short, its curved, anatomical shape makes for an easy dig. The handle’s trapezoidal design prevents it from rotating and will reliably hold it in place. In 2006, this shovel won the Couloir Backcountry Magazine’s Innovations Design Award and, in 2008, it wins my recommendation.

    • Flat-backed shovel blade for snow-pack stability testing
    • Curved shaft for better handling
    • Very lightweight
    • Uniquely shaped grip is easy to hold
    • Shaft slides into shovel blade for easy packing
  • Voile Telepro

    Dino says: The Voile Telepro is a great avalanche shovel. The Telepro has a nice, relatively large blade. It is of average weight, but in spite of its larger sized scoop, it is still nicely packable with a telescoping handle that extends to about 40 inches in length. Shoveling is easy because of its superb D-grip. I had a chance to play around with this one and was able to get enough snow moving to shovel up an ugly, but man-sized snowman in minutes! It really makes a difference when you have a good shovel. I was able to handle lots of shovels in various stores, but only when you take them into the field can you really tell if you are using a good model or not. The Telepro is avalanche shovel I can highly recommend, as it is functional and very easily packable. The almost 39 inches of shaft length made it easy on the back and its D-shaped handle provided an excellent grip. This scoop, which is detachable from the handle, is fitted with two small holes on each side of the blade’s edge. When you string a rope through them, you can turn it into a make-shift rescue sled.

    • Handle extends to almost 40 inches
    • Wear-resistant blade coating
    • Collapsing and telescoping build
    • Very competitively priced
  • Ortovox Pro Aluminum Shovel

    Dino says: It won’t be the easiest task to find these in the stores or even online anymore because they are currently sold out in most locations (you can still find them if you call around or search online). This is another shovel I saw in action on Snoqualmie Pass. Its rare L-grip makes it stand out in a crowd and also makes it very easy to shovel with. I really enjoyed the feel of the non-slip L-grip, it is easy to hold onto and get some good energy behind your shovel strokes. The Ortovox Pro is lightweight and not too big, just overall the right combination of size and functionality. The blade is supposed to be unbreakable, which of course is a positive thing, and can be turned into a small rescue sled if needed. The blade edge is quite narrow and can easily slice through ice and crud. You also get a life-time warranty on the shovel blade.

    • Telescopic handle
    • Non-slip L-grip
    • Unbreakable blade with lifetime guarantee
    • Narrow blade edge
  • Life Link Pit Boss

    Dino says: The Pit Boss gets its name for its excellent use in building snow pits and snow columns (e.g. for snow-pack research). Most backcountry skiers, of course, want to bring their shovels primarily as an emergency tool in case of an avalanche release, but the pros will do the so called “Rutschblock” test not only once a day, but often every time they have to cross a slope. Snow conditions vary from slope to slope depending upon which direction the slope is facing (shade or the sun). This blade design has been optimized for snow column tests by including strong, steeper side walls and a rib design for more stiffness. With almost 40-inch extended handle length, The Pit Boss shovels easily, and when you’re done, just slide the handle forward so it will rest inside the blade for easy packing. The Pit Boss is extremely sturdy and features a T-grip design but I hear that you can replace it with a D-grip if you prefer, which can be ordered from Life Link directly. The Pit Boss has by far the coolest (or let’s say hottest) design, displaying red and yellow flames on an overall black colored shovel.

    • T-grip design
    • Ideal for digging snow pits and making snow columns
    • Larger sized blade
    • Packs away easily due by pushing handle and blade together
  • The Voile XLM

    Dino says: The Voile XLM is definitely a very small and lightweight shovel - the smallest aluminum shovel I have come across so far. It does not have a telescoping or collapsible shaft but its overall size is about the length of a medium sized backpack and therefore easily storable. You can detach the shaft from the blade to make it even less space consuming. Yes, you do lose some digging power by using a small scooped shovel with a relatively short shaft (about 25 inches). However, you are more likely to bring this one with you even on short ventures when you only carry a smaller backpack. The durable aluminum blade can withstand even the hardest use. Highly recommend especially for short trips into the backcountry when you want to pack lightly.

    • Extremely light and compact aluminum shovel (weighs only 16 ounces)
    • Small blade and handle size
    • Durable design
    • Detachable handle

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