How to Choose & Use a Snow Shovel

How to Choose & Use a Snow Shovel
While you've likely used a shovel to clear off the sidewalk or driveway, you've probably never used a shovel to save someone's life. This is exactly what a backcountry shovel is designed to do; therefore, choosing and carrying a shovel is extremely important. In addition to an avalanche beacon and probe, the shovel is one of the big three backcountry skiing and snowboarding essentials.


Difficulty: Moderate

Step 1
Look for a shovel with a good metal head. Shovels are made with various materials including aluminum and plastics. While plastic shovels may be lighter, they can lack the strength needed to dig into hard-packed snow. After an avalanche, you'll be digging hard, dense snow and you want a shovel that is strong enough to penetrate quickly. The first goal of the shovel is that it functions quickly and effectively.
Step 2
Fit the shovel to your pack. Most backcountry shovels break into two pieces or compact small to fit into a backpack. You'll want to be sure to choose a shovel that fits into or on your pack. Within this parameter, purchase as large a head as will fit to provide the best digging power. A longer handle will also provide better leverage when digging.
Step 3
Test the shovel out. Try breaking it down and putting it back together to see how quick and easy assembly is. In a rescue, every second counts so a shovel that assembles quickly will be the best possible solution.
Step 4
Make sure the handle has a good solid grip. The better you can hold on, the more effectively you'll be able to dig. Determine if you prefer a T-handle or D-handle.
Step 5
Simulate a shoveling motion and make sure that the shovel is long enough and comfortable for you.
Step 6
Consider any additional features. Some shovels have tools such as probes and snow saws stored right in the handle. This can help to save some space in your pack.
Step 7
Use the shovel in the backcountry. A shovel is used in conjunction with the avalanche beacon and probe in the event that one of your party becomes buried in an avalanche. Before setting out everyone should have set their beacons to transmit. When searching, you'll set your beacon to receive and use it to find the general location of the victim. Then you'll probe the snow to determine a more exact location, and use the shovel to dig the victim out. A shovel is also useful in testing snowpack for stability and in building backcountry kickers.

Tips & Warnings

Before going into the backcountry, receive the proper avalanche training.
Practice using your beacon, probe and shovel before venturing into the backcountry. Bury a beacon in the snow, find it and dig it out. Practice and improve your speed and efficiency. Your gear is only so good as your ability to use it.
Never travel into the backcountry alone; your gear is useless unless someone else equipped with the same gear is with you. Most likely you will not be able to dig yourself out and will require outside rescue from companions.

Article Written By Joe Fletcher

Joe Fletcher has been a writer since 2002, starting his career in politics and legislation. He has written travel and outdoor recreation articles for a variety of print and online publications, including "Rocky Mountain Magazine" and "Bomb Snow." He received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers College.

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