By Matt Primomo

A safety equipment check should become standard practice for everyone. These inspections are easy to do and can be a great refresher. In this article we’ll do a run-through on what to look for and how to do these safety checks. You can use an equipment check as an opportunity to familiarize yourself and partners with the intricacies of each other’s gear. We’ll look at essential avalanche safety equipment (beacon, shovel, probe) and recommended equipment (helmets and avalanche airbags). All said, keep the big picture in mind. The goal is to avoid having to use this stuff in the first place!

Beacons

We recommend using a modern beacon with 3 antennas, and no older than 5 years. 

  • Put brand new batteries in the beacon, check for loose battery terminals and corrosion. Visually inspect the beacon for cracks, screen damage, or other signs of damage.
  • Check functionality of toggle switch between Send, Search, and Off.
  • Perform a Function Check.
  • Perform a Range Check
  • Check your specific beacons model to see if there have been any firmware updates or recalls. 

Probes

We recommend a dedicated avalanche probe of at least 270cm in length. 

  • Toss the ends out and put it together! 
  • Inspect for any cracks or bent pieces, and for frays in the cord/wire. 
  • Tension the probe and check that the locking mechanism works well. There should be minimal play between pieces after it is locked.

Shovels

We recommend an extendable metal shovel.

  • Put the shovel together, and extend the handle. 
  • Check that the locking mechanisms work smoothly. 
  • Check for general condition and appearance, there should be no cracks or bent pieces as these could be weak points if digging through hard avalanche debris.

Helmets:

  • Check your helmet’s general condition, appearance and put it on, making sure the chin clips are functional.
  • Inspect for any cracks or dents, and make sure the internal connections and suspension system is secure.

There is no doubt that a helmet can help keep you safe, but it’s important to wear the right helmet for the activity. As a winter enthusiast, I typically rotate between a quiver of three different helmets: A ski helmet, a snowmobile helmet, and a climbing helmet. A brief understanding of what these helmets are designed for and their limitations will help you choose the right ‘lid’ for the day.

Look for the following ratings:

  • Downhill ski: EN1077
  • Snowmobile: DOT- FMVSS 218 and/or Snell
  • Climbing: EN12492

Additionally, the use of Multi-Directional Impact System (MIPS) technology is worth considering. MIPS allows the head to move inside the helmet, which can reduce the amount of rotational forces which may otherwise be transferred to the brain. 

Airbag Packs:

Put the pack on and check that all appears as it should, clip up the harness strap.

  • Put the pack on and check that all appears as it should, clip up the harness strap.
  • Check that all stitching, zippers and pack material are in good shape.
  • Deploy the airbag. Once deployed, check the airbag material for leaks or holes. Have a plan in place on where you can get a refill!
  • Refer to the individual owner’s manual for more details on what else to inspect, such as canister connections, battery systems, and their related components.

A Few Thoughts:

  • With all safety equipment, each piece of gear has a lifespan. At some point there comes a time when the equipment will need to be retired. 
  • Remember to practice with your gear! Practice makes perfect. Create good habits by practicing with your equipment the way you normally travel in the backcountry.
  • Most importantly at the end of the day, keep the big picture in mind. The end goal is to avoid having to use this equipment in the first place. Don’t let the fact that just because you are armed with all this safety equipment allow you to take higher risks in the mountains.