But really aren’t.
Let’s face it, due to the very nature of the pursuit, backcountry riding can introduce you to some characters with some serious testosterone problems (both male and female). You have to be pretty confident in your abilities to really push yourself and your partners to new zones and to go bigger in old ones. The problem with this facade, is that we could all be learning some great tricks from each other on how to be more efficient and safe out there, if we were only willing to open our eyes and take some notes. These lessons don’t have to come from an old fart spitting crazy facts at you, or someone acting like your father as he tells you how to mow the lawn better. Rather, watch your partners and friends as they struggle with little things that seem awkward or could be improved upon.
So on that note, here are a couple of observations we have made recently:
1. Ditch the Probe Pouch
Every “backcountry” specific backpack made now adays comes with a special pocket dedicated solely to storing your avalanche gear (read: shovel, probe, saw). In this special pocket, there are sleeves for your shovel handle and your probe. Yet for some reason, people love to keep their probe in its handy little pouch that the company sold it with. We all love a great accessory bag, but what exactly is this bag for when you have your probe inside of a backpack inside of a special compartment separated by a special sleeve? Have you ever watched someone try to extract his or her probe from said pouch in a hurry? Those things are damn near impossible to pull out at the right time. Hopefully these people aren’t trying to prevent scuffs or scratches on said probes, because if you are probing for me, you better be finding every damn rock and root you can possibly strike. In the sake of saving lives and seconds, having an extra pouch to fiddle with while your buddy is dying isn’t something we need in the way. So keep that fancy pouch for summer storage, and ditch the wrapper once you kit out your pack for winter, unless you also keep your shovel in the box that it came in. In that case, go see a therapist about a thing called crazy.
2. Keep it inside the bag
Alright DaKine, we are calling you out. One of the only packs on the market with an external shovel handle storage is the DaKine heli pro. Maybe some people like to show that they are carrying gear, but really this also shows that you have to make more moves to grab your gear when needed. Once again, we are talking about streamlining and simplifying your access. If you already have to open a pocket to grab your shovel blade and probe, shouldn’t your handle be at the same access point? Speed and simplicity really are the most important things when saving a life, and keeping things all in one place is the most simple and quick approach you can take. To us, this would be like putting your wallet with your ID in your back pocket and your credit card in your jacket pocket. They are close and easy to get to, but does it really make sense? Not to mention, avalanches are pretty rowdy encounters that could easily pluck a strap open…ripping an attached shovel handle off a pack pretty easily. So get a real pack that keeps everything inside, and don’t even think about wearing one of those shoulder strap shovel/probe combos that you see Vail ski patrolers wearing. One tumble and your gear is gone, or your back is broken…
3. On at the car, off at the bar
It’s surprising how many people forget to put batteries in their beacon, or completely leave them at home all together. We go by the saying on at the car, off at the bar. What this really means is, put your damn beacon on at your house, and take it off when you get back home. For storage, just hang your beacon in front of your pack so you can put it on before grabbing anything else. This has so many advantages it is funny to even talk about. First, you can actually check your battery life to make sure you are a safe partner. Second, if you put your beacon on before you leave the house, you magically won’t forget it. It is science really, but if wearing your beacon for a few minutes while you drive to the trailhead or rip a couple of runs before hiking out of bounds bothers you, then maybe this gig isn’t for you. Third, you don’t have to be that guy at the top of the mountain shivering as you shed layers to put on a beacon that you kept in your pack while you rode. Third, cooking eggs with a beacon on just makes you look like a badass, and PBR at the bar tastes better when you are beeping. (Not really, turn your beacon off when you are in the bar)
4. Pole Problems
This seems to mainly be a splitboarder problem, but buy some new damn poles already! Out of the hundreds and thousands of dollars we spend on gear, it seems snowboarders never have a set of poles that work for shit. Either they are hand me downs with small baskets or the pin locks get stuck. While this little bit of gear has nothing to do with the ride, they have every bit of importance in arriving to your line. Not much to say here other than quit being the guy sitting on you butt fiddling with your pole while everyone else is strapped in and ready to shred. Ante up and buy some quality collapsible poles, not the ones Hank from the tune shop let you borrow three years ago before he got fired.
5. Ride with skiers and snowboarders
Most splitboarders are pretty new to the scene, and many skiers are pretty proud of their new Dynafit setup. So play together and we can all learn some moves from each other. One of my favorite things a skier taught me was how to whack my pole (it was a long day). Seriously though, when too much snow builds up on top of your ski as you skin, smack the top of it with your pole handle to clear it all off. Another skier showed me that a little dish soap on the top prevents snow build up to begin with.
None of us are perfect, which is why we can use each other’s successes and mistakes to learn how to enhance our own systems. So open your eyes, take note of what other people are doing, and use that information to improve your kit and efficiency.