Between 20 and 40 people die every year in avalanches in North America alone. Proximity to a resort means nothing. As soon as you’re outside the ropes, you may as well be in the middle of Alaska. Gear is no replacement for knowledge, but going into the backcountry without avalanche gear is reckless at best, and potentially lethal. At the very least, you’ll need a partner, and these essential pieces of gear: a beacon, a shovel, a probe, and knowledge of how to use them.
Today’s digital avalanche beacons are easier and faster to use than ever before. Get one, practice like your life depends on it, and then do everything in your power to keep from having to use it.
A probe is a necessary piece of gear. Once you’ve used your beacon to get close, a probe lets you pinpoint a buried victim with accuracy that a beacon can’t provide. This leads to less digging time and a faster recovery, which can be lifesaving.
It doesn’t do you any good to locate an avalanche victim if you can’t dig them out. Get yourself a sturdy, collapsible avalanche shovel with a pointed or serrated aluminum blade. An avy shovel is purpose-built to get through concrete-hard avalanche debris.