Backcountry Ski Tours in Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland seems to offer unlimited potential for backcountry ski tours. Last week I returned from my second ski trip there. I’ve updated my original travel guide to backcountry skiing in Iceland with more resources on planning a trip here, and in this post I’ll share some details of some classic tours we conducted on this most recent trip. Enjoy!


Day 1- Karlsárdalur Valley and Siglufjörður ski resort

After settling in to our accommodations in Akureyri we planned a light warm up tour for the next morning in the Karlsárdalur Valley that we became familiar with last year. This scenic and easily accessed valley is just a few minutes north of Dalvik. We skinned up to about to about 650 meters on the second ridge coming off of 988 meter Karlsarfjall mountain and enjoyed a spring condition snowpack run back down.

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Skinning in to the scenic Karlsárdalur Valley just north of Dalvik
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Heading up a shoulder of Karlsarfjall
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
A rocky prominence at about 650 meters on Karlsarfjall with Eyjafjörður, the longest fjord in Iceland behind me
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Our highpoint on this quick morning tour is the prominent point in the background

Here’s our GPS track from the tour and relevant details. Keep in mind we took quite a few photography/filming breaks along the way and this could probably be a quick 2.5 hour tour without these breaks.

Relive ‘Morning Apr 12th’

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Warm up tour in Karlsárdalur Valley

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633935627

After this quick morning mission we jumped back in the car to scout some potential northern locations. We drove north on route 82 through Ólafsfjörður then hopped on route 76 through a virtually uninhabited valley referred to as “Tunnel Town” before reaching Siglufjörður, arguably the northern most size-able town in Iceland! Here, while scouting a potential tour location and running into our back-east-home-town guide-of-guides Mr. Marc Chauvin, we had a couple locals pull up in a truck to promote an upcoming ski race they were hosting. They also informed us they ran the local ski hill and invited us to visit free of charge!

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Faster than skinning! photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Most scenic T-bar I have ever been on!

This ski resort operates a series of 4 t-bars that whisk you up to 650 meters (our current morning highpoint) in just under 20 minutes! The views on the descent are stellar and their groomed main trail offers night skiing (though we opted for some off-piste on our second descent). A huge thanks to these folks, and especially Patrick who shared a lot of his towns history and info with us while we enjoyed some complimentary dried Cod and Icelandic beer on the ski lodge porch!

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Dried Cod, a tasty local snack high in protein
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Size-able avalanche paths threaten the small town of Siglufjörður hence the “avalanche fencing” visible high on the slopes above the town! Photo by Erik Howes

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633938322


Day 2- Sunrise summit of Karlsarfjall (988 meters)

For day two we rose at 0200 so we could get higher on Karlsarfjall and enjoy the spectacular Icelandic sunrise during our approach. We were also treated to an Aurora Borealis display as a bonus!

Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Erik Howes captures some Aurora Borealis and the Big Dipper!
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Alpine glow starts to light the place up! Photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Looking southeast off the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Almost to the summit of Karlsarfjall… the Norwegian Sea stretches on for days! Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Summit of Karlsarfjall- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Layering up for descent- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
The prominent Kerahnjukur peak is off to the north and looks quite tasty!
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Spring turns off Karlsarfjall- Photo by Cait Bourgault
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Enjoying the turns- photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Party ski with Baejarfjall in the background- Photo by Cait Bourgault

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633950042


Day 3- Rest Day and Sightseeing- Grjótagjá caves

With a forecast for rain and feeling some travel fatigue after touring for two days we decided that Day 3 would be our sight-seeing rest day before our final couple of tour days. We decided to explore the Lake Myvatn region about an hour east of Akureyri. About halfway along Route 1 we made a quick stop at the scenic Godafoss waterfall then continued to Route 848 and drove around the south side of Lake Myvatn to the small village of Reykjahlíð.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
The river below Godafoss- photo by Erik Howes

From here a very short drive back on Route 1 brings you to Route 860 and the Grjótagjá caves. This underground thermal hot spring has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, partially due no doubt to being the filming location of Jon Snow and Ygritte’s steamy encounter in the popular Game of Thrones show!

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Grjótagjá caves- photo by Erik Howes
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Fun exploring around this volcanic fissure revealed a few underground thermal pools

Day 4- Kaldbakur (1173 meters)

For our fourth day we decided to tour on the east side of Eyjafjörður just north of Grenivik. A small cat touring operation runs almost daily trips up this peak ($75pp) (phone +354 8673770). We opted to stick with human powered adventure and skinned up the peak basically following the obvious cat track.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Cool Ortovox Beacon Check
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Skinning up the cat track
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
View to the east as we near the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Size-able cornices near summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Summit of Kaldbakur- photo by Erik Howes
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Brent Doscher gets a great shot on the descent!

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633956698


Day 5- Sulur Peak (1,213 meters)

For our final tour day we stayed close to our lodging in Akureyri and set our sights on Sulur Peak, the first prominent peak just south of town. The trailhead is only a few minutes from town. A long mellow skin leads to the scenic upper mountain and we reached the summit register box in just under 3 hours.

Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Cait & Corey all smiles on our last ascent of the trip
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Getting close to the summit
Backcountry skiing in Iceland
Erik sends it off Sulur high above Akureyri- photo by Brent Doscher
Backcountry Skiing in Iceland
Sulur Peak- photo by Erik Howes

 https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/embed/2633961749


Summary

Northern Iceland obviously has a lifetime worth of touring to explore. I hope sharing these tours with you will motivate you to plan your own trip to this beautiful country. Be sure to check out my updated Travel Guide to Ski Touring in Iceland for advice on everything from flying to Iceland to eating & drinking when in country! Also if I left out one of your favorite tours let me know in the comments below! Are you interested in downloading the GPS tracks from these trips for future use? What else would you like to see in a trip report?

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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Tech Tip- How Not to Fall while Skiing Tuckerman Ravine

With the arrival of April the Spring skiing (and falling) season has started in Tuckerman Ravine. After watching a couple tumble almost 500 feet down “The Lip” yesterday I thought some advice on fall prevention might be prudent.

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
Approximate fall

First tip…

Timing

The snow conditions in Tuckerman Ravine vary greatly this time of year from day to day and often hour to hour. The best type of snow for descending this time of year is referred to as “corn snow”. This is snow that has undergone multiple freeze thaw cycles and looks like little kernels of corn. Backcountry skiers jest that we are “harvesting corn” when the conditions are good. But corn snow is all about timing.

Try to ski too early in the season or the day and the corn hasn’t formed yet. Conditions that promote the formation of good corn snow are close or above freezing temperatures, strong solar radiation, and low winds. Try too ski to late in the day when the sun has dipped below the ridge will often find that the soft buttery edge-able forgiving corn has quickly transformed back into a frozen mess. Literally minutes can make a difference in how a run will ski.

So how do you hit it at the right time? First, you check the Higher Summits Forecast before you even leave Pinkham Notch. You’re hoping that the forecasted temps are at least in the mid to upper 20’s and that summit winds are under 50 mph. You also want to see “Mostly Sunny” or “In The Clear”. Overcast days are not for harvesting corn.

Next you should check the Current Summit Conditions. Specifically what you want from this page is the temperature “profile” that shows what the temperatures are at various elevations on the mountain, wind speeds, and sky condition. This page, along with the Higher Summits Forecast, are both bookmarked on my iPhone for quick daily reference.

Spring Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
MWOBS Current Conditions Page- The ski terrain in the ravine is roughly between 4,200 and 5,200 feet in elevation

Ideally temps in the Ravine will be at or above freezing, winds will be low, and the sky will be mostly clear. The lower charts help identify trends. In the above example the winds have died to almost nothing, temperatures are increasing, and barometric pressure has risen and is holding steady (indicating not a big change for the rest of the day). Visibility however is only 1/8 of a mile with some snow and freezing fog (shown under “weather”)… this means no corn today.

Finally, to determine when the slope you want to descend will lose the sun you have a few tools at your disposal. During trip planning you can use CalTopo’s “Sun Exposure” layer to see when certain aspects and runs will lose the sun. In this example you can see what areas still have sun at 2 PM today.

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine

While actually out skiing you could also use an app like PeakFinder AR. An example of how I might use this app would be climbing up Right Gully and deciding to go ski in the East Snowfields for a bit before returning to descend Right Gully. Halfway up the gully, near the steepest pitch, I open up the PeakFinder app and find the path of the sun. Where it intersects the ridge the app will mark the exact time the sun will go below the ridge line (often an hour or more before true sunset). I know now what time I need to be through this spot if I still want soft snow!

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
This screenshot is not from Right Gully, but demonstrates the capability

Next up let’s look at…

Gear

Later in the season there will likely be established “boot ladders” where dozens, or hundreds, of other visitors will have kicked deep steps into the 40 to 50 degree slopes allowing people to ascend these slopes with little extra gear.

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
A well established boot ladder- photo from OutdoorTripReports.com

However, some of these items could really make a difference early in the season, or later in the day, and also could allow you to travel outside of the established boot ladder, which would make you less of a sitting duck if someone higher up looses their footing. First, the most important…

Helmet!

Skida Headwear Review
The author preparing to descend from 4900 feet in Tuckerman Ravine during mid-winter conditions

Most skiers these days wear helmets at ski resorts while ripping fast groomers and shredding pow in the glades but then many choose not to wear a helmet while skiing in Tuckerman Ravine (which has much more objective hazards than a controlled ski resort). Head injuries can occur from falls, collisions with other skiers, and occasionally falling ice and/or rocks. Most ski helmets though are too hot for a 50 degree sunny day in the ravine, so consider buying or borrowing a well ventilated climbing helmet. The new Petzl Boreo Helmet is an excellent choice at a great price and offers more side impact and lower back protection than most climbing helmets. You can pick one up locally at both International Mountain Equipment and Eastern Mountain Sports.

Mountaineering Axe

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
Crampons and a mountaineering axe provide security on steep firm slopes- photo by Brent Doscher

When the professional rangers of the Mount Washington Avalanche Center say that “long sliding falls” are a specific hazard today one would be wise to carry, and know how to use, a mountaineering axe to arrest or prevent a fall. This would be in hand during the ascent with your ski poles strapped to your pack (baskets up). While there are many models that will suit this purpose I am currently carrying the Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe which is incredibility light-weight (12 ounces) yet still has a steel head and pick. Lots of experienced skiers like the added flexibility of carrying a Black Diamond Whippet Pole instead of a full fledged mountaineering axe, and if snow conditions are soft enough this can be a great option.

Crampons

Skiing Tuckerman Ravine
Petzl LLF Crampons- photo from Petzl.com

While an established boot pack might feel secure leaving the boot back or taking the path less traveled may require some traction. Micro-spikes might be helpful on the lower angled hiking trail below Hermit Lake (Hojo’s) but won’t cut it in 40 degree terrain. For snowboard boots check out the Black Diamond Neve Strap Crampons. For those who count ounces and wear technical touring boots my current favorite is the feather-weight Petzl Leopard LLF Crampons.

Education

skiing Tuckerman Ravine
The author heads into steeper terrain in the Gulf of Slides, Mount Washington- photo by Erik Howes

If you would like to take a course in basic crampon and mountaineering axe technique I teach a one-day skills course at Northeast Mountaineering. I also offer Backcountry Skiing Skills Courses along with Ski Mountaineering and this is the perfect time of year to attend one of these courses! Contact me at nealpinestart@gmail.com for availability.

Resources

Higher Summits Forecast

Current Summit Conditions

Mount Washington Avalanche Center

Mount Washington Volunteer Ski Patrol

Time for Tuckerman

Friends of Tuckerman Ravine

Granite Backcountry Alliance

Ski the Whites

Summary

Skiing (and falling) in Tuckerman Ravine is a time-honored tradition and rite-of-passage for many East Coast and beyond skiers. YouTube is full of videos of these falls. Some result in no injury, others result in “snow rash”, bruises, cuts, broken bones, a least one LifeFlight, and occasional fatalities, one of which was exactly 8 years ago. Hopefully the above advice can help prevent a few of these from happening this season. There is a lot of fun and sun to be had in the next few weeks in Tuckerman Ravine but let’s be sure we respect the hazards that exist in our wild places.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Exploring a new slide path

The final days of October 2017 brought over 6 inches of rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Philippe to Mount Washington which resulted in major flooding all over the Saco River Valley (which had risen to 14 feet above flood stage!). It also apparently ripped a nice new slide path near Burt Ravine on the west side of Mount Washington, only 10 minutes from the Cog Railway.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The 10 minute bushwhack to a 500 foot new slide path

I came across this path a couple days ago while exiting Burt Ravine and noticed it looked quite fresh but didn’t really put it together that it was only 5 months old until I got home and did a little research. While I’m sure a local or two has likely quietly grabbed the first descent I needed to get back and put a run in on this new path pronto, and this morning I made it happen.

Here’s the skinny…

I skinned up the Cog reaching Waumbek Tank in about 30 minutes. At 3,920 feet I picked up our skin track from a couple days prior and contoured/bushwacked back to the slide path (ten minute bushwhack). This skin track enters the slide at mid-path, so I set in some kick-turns and climbed up to about 4,200 feet, the high point on the path.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Skinning up the young slide path with the Jewell Trail ridge across the way

From here the run drops 500 feet to the south most tributary of Clay Brook, the main brook fed from Burt Ravine.  The average slope angle was 30 degrees with a max pitch of 34 degrees and is an almost true NW aspect.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Details from the top of the slide path
Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The run, courtesy of CalTopo
Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Looking back up the path from about mid-path
Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The lower half of the path. There is a split that goes left out of frame that had a set of tracks in it that continued down Clay Brook

I skinned back up to the established bushwhack and exited back to the Cog, reaching the car in amount 2 hours and 20 minutes from departure.

Given I waited about 20 or more minutes for some friends to arrive before dropping I would say this would be pretty easy to hit car-to-car in 2 hours. It’s a really nice little run that is super accessible (though it costs $10 to park at Marshfield Station). New slides like this are so exciting. While extreme weather can have devastating effects on life & property the power of Mother Nature can also open up new ski terrain from time to time, and this little shot in the woods is well worth the effort.

Next time I head there I will try the bushwhack from the Switch House along the 4,200 contour so I can come in from the top, though the lower traverse would still be the easiest way out. I also want to go ahead and ski out Clay Brook to the Jewell Trail but I’ll be doing that on a day where I don’t have an early turn around time set.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Trip Report- Burt Ravine (3/28/18)

Yesterday I got to ski a new-to-me ravine on Mount Washington, Burt Ravine, the one just to the left of the Cog Railway when viewed from the west. We skinned up the Cog and reached the top of Airplane Gully in 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The view from Jacob’s Ladder, elevation 4,760 feet, into Ammonoosuc Ravine with the southern Presidential’s beyond

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
The top of Airplane Gully, elevation 5,470 feet, with The Great Gulf below and the Northern Presidential’s beyond

Jordan, who had climbed up from the east side of Washington via Pinnacle Gully and was meeting us on the ridge, dropped into nearby Turkey Shoot while Benny and Nick sent Airplane Gully. Conditions were stiff but edge-able wind-board. Brit and I made our way over to the top of Burt Ravine and dropped in.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Two skiers on the skyline skinning up alongside The Cog

I would find out later through Facebook that this was likely Marty of Alpine Endeavors, who sent me a pic of us from his vantage…

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
You can see our tracks and if you look closely find us!

Burt skied pretty well with a variety of snow conditions as you can see in the video below. Once we got to 3,800 feet I found a skin track leaving the drainage that appeared to be heading back to the Cog. Consulting the topo made it look like it might contour back to the Cog around Waumbek Tank, and be quite a fair bit easier than the 1.2 mile low-angle thrash to pick up the Jewell Trail and exit. We decided to commit to it. It climbed about 150 feet with a few switch backs then crossed a really enticing new slide path.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Looking up the new slide

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Looking down the new slide path

The upended trees and dirt made this new path look quite fresh and the rumor is it formed during the Fall 2017 weather system that brought massive flooding to the Mount Washington Valley.

The skin track seemed to stop on the other side of the path so I continued following our contour and intersected with the Cog about 300 feet above Waumbek Tank. It only took us about 30 minutes of bushwhacking to get back out of Burt and from what I hear that is much better than trying to negotiate the lower drainage.

Backcountry Skiing Mount Washington
Burt Ravine GPS Track (accidentally paused tracking where the line is straight on the descent)

We exited down a still pretty firm Cog run and called it a day. Mileage was just over 5 miles in 4.5 hours with 3,264 elevation gain/loss. It looks like the Higher Summits Forecast isn’t to appealing for the next few days. Let’s hope the weekend brings some decent Spring skiing weather for the last avalanche course of the season!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


 

Trip Report- Gulf of Slides 3/25/18

Yesterday we wrapped up our AIARE 1 Avalanche Course with a field trip into the Gulf of Slides on the east side of Mount Washington. The weather was fantastic and looks to staying that way for the next 48 hours. I’m catching up on some home chores today but will be heading back into the alpine tomorrow! Here’s a quick run-down of our tour yesterday.

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
AM Trip Planning Session at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Skinning past the Avalanche Brook Ski Trail while heading up the Gulf of Slides Ski Trail
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
The main gully. Instead of booting up our intended run we skinned over to the South Snowfields and then traversed back to the main gully at 4620 feet.

The skinning was good until about 4400 feet where holding an edge on the traverse got a bit tricky. I was happy to have my Dynafit Ski Crampons along and will be posting a thorough review of those very soon!

AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Heading up the South Snowfields- photo by Erik Howes
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Small old cornice at the ridge top
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Making some snow-pack observation. We mostly found pencil-hard slab with low propagation potential (CTH, Q2, ECTX) See field book pic for more info.
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
CTH or CTN results
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Our pit location, UTM, altitude, angle, and aspect courtesy of Theodolite app!
Gulf of Slides Ski Tour
Gulf of Slides Ski Tour
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
Little bit of fun on the way down! – photo by Erik Howes
AIARE 1 Avalanche Course
My field notes…

It wasn’t too crowded, we saw perhaps 20-30 people up there. The 48 hour forecast is for more low wind bluebird conditions so I’m heading back out tomorrow with a plan to ski from the summit. Hope you can get out and enjoy! I think our Spring ski season is going to be quite good this year!

New to Back-country Skiing? I do teach the following courses

Introduction to Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry Ski Touring

Ski Mountaineering

Former AIARE students of mine get a 10% discount on these courses! Just message me directly through Instagram or Facebook for the discount code and let me know what date you want to go!

Upcoming Reviews

I’ve recently upgraded and added to my ski mountaineering gear and upcoming reviews will be focused on ultra-light gear designed specifically with back-country skiing and mountaineering in mind. Look for these reviews to come out soon!

Dynafit Ski Crampons

Petzl Leopard FL Crampons

Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

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Trip Report- Skiing The Flume

I’ve been thinking about skiing The Flume in Crawford Notch State Park for close to a decade. I’ve climbed it dozens of times as an excellent early season moderate ice route (one memorable trip report here) but avoid it later in the season when it fills in with snow… until today. My friend and co-avy-instructor Benny texted me last night that it was looking prime so we decided to skin up the Webster Jackson Trail and give it a go.

Skiing the Flume, Crawford Notch
The route
Skiing the Flume, Crawford Notch
Skinning up Webster Jackson Trail

It did not disappoint! I brought a bit of technical gear in anticipation of 2-3 rappels and we only needed it for the one pitch that goes into the ice cave, which usually marks the end of the interesting climbing when the route is in early season ice climbing shape.

 

In hindsight, and under current conditions, I would only take a 30 meter rope as opposed to the 60 meter one I lugged up there, and if one wants to avoid visiting the ice cave you could probably find a line to skier’s right… but rapping into that cave was kind of a highlight! That and the waist deep POW we kept hitting from there down!

Logistics

Park at the height of land parking lot on the east side of Route 302 just south of Saco Lake.

Cross the highway and head north 200 feet the Webster Jackson Trail. Follow that about .8-.9 miles to a pretty obvious stream bed. (Took us 50 minutes)

Drop in and reach the top of the “ice cave” in about 400 feet. Either navigate through woods around the cave or rap in (30 meter rope would work).

Enjoy a few nice pitches of skiing back to the road. Walk back up to your car (took us 2 hours car to car).

Disclaimer: This is a Grade 2 ice climb. There are more than a few 40 degree drops that could produce size-able (D2) avalanches. Bring your A-game and assess the snow constantly.

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Gear Review- Avalanche Safety Gear Part 2: Avalanche Probes

For the second part of a multi-post series on avalanche safety gear we will take a look at avalanche probes and answer some questions to help you pick the right model.

Part 1: Avalanche Transceivers (Beacons)

Part 2: Avalanche Probes

Part 3: Avalanche Shovels

Part 4: Avalanche Airbags (coming soon)

Ortovox Avalanche Probes Review
Avalanche Probe Reviews- photo by Cait Bourgault

An avalanche probe is so much more than just a rescue resource! In fact it is one of my most used tools to make snow-pack observations, both formal and informal.

For example, tracking average snow depth over the terrain helps me better understand the high degree of variability in our terrain. By “gently” probing I can feel for denser layers over weaker layers (possible slabs) and get a sense of how complex the snow-pack I am traveling over is, including the number and prevalence of melt-freeze crusts in our snow-pack, which often are quite relevant to assessing snow stability.

When taking the time to look more closely at the snow-pack via digging a snow-pit the probe helps me identify the depth of any questionable layers. Finally the probe must deploy quickly and reliably in the event of an avalanche accident and provide that critical piece of info, burial depth, once you get a “probe strike”. For all these reasons I would suggest you think critically about what probe you should carry, and below I will help you narrow the field to the model that is right for you.

Aluminum vs Carbon vs Steel

Aluminum probes are likely the most common out there. A solid balance between weight, durability, and affordability. Carbon probes are gaining popularity. Ounce counters will justify the higher cost to save a couple ounces. Steel probes are the choice of organized rescue teams around the world, trading extra weight for long-term durability.

*One experienced reader (@whats_thematterhorn) has pointed out that those who spend a lot of time in glaciated terrain might avoid carbon poles… frequent probing through glacier hard snow/ice to designate “safe areas” and assess snow bridges can lead to pre-mature wear or failure of a carbon probe. In addition a longer probe might be more beneficial in big mountain terrain (Alaska) than in our lower 48 BC terrain.

Length- 240 cm, 280 cm, 320 cm?

Avalanche probe length can vary, with the most common length for recreational users being 240 cm. Considering the average burial depth is 1.4 meters this gives us an extra meter in length over “average” to account for deeper burials. Longer probes do allow one to probe deeper without having to bend over but are best suited for professional rescue where weight/pack-ability isn’t at a premium. The extra length, unfortunately, is more for “recovery” rather than rescue as someone buried over 2 meters deep has a very low chance of survival.

Let’s look at some of the Ortovox models and who they would be best suited for…

Ortovox Alu 240 Avalanche Probe $39.95

Ortovox Alu 240 Avalanche Probe
Ortovox Alu 240 Avalanche Probe- 200 grams (7 ounces)

A “budget” choice but one that really beats any other model at this price on the market. 5 cm depth markers, a high visibility first section combined with a visible 1 meter mark and quick lock system all make this a very fine option at a bargain price point.

Ortovox Alu 240 PFA Avalanche Probe $59.95

Ortovox Alu 240 PFA Avalanche Probe

A significant upgrade in the Ortovox Aluminum line the 240 PFA model adds a faster assembly system, a strong and light steel tensioning system (instead of the thin rope used in the Alu 240), and a better top hand grip for precise control during a systematic probe search. This would be my best recommendation for the majority of recreationalists!

Ortovox Carbon 240 Superlight Avalanche Probe $89.95

Ortovox Carbon 240 Superlight Probe
Ortovox Carbon 240 Superlight Avalanche Probe- 185 grams (6.5 ounces)

The lightest probe in the Ortovox line this is the model of choice for those who like to shave ounces from their kit, yet it still has great durability and the quick lock assembly system as well as the “visual guide system” that is a feature of all Ortovox probes. If you like to streamline your kit this is the one to look at!

Ortovox Carbon 280+ PFA Avalanche Probe $99.95

Ortovox Carbon 280+ PFA Avalanche Probe
Ortovox Carbon 280+ PFA Avalanche Probe 355 grams / 12.5 oz

Longer than the 240 cm models and extendable (can be extended with another probe) this model is the choice of mountain guides and rescue groups around the world. Light weight carbon with a high strength steel tension system and the rubberized top grip make this a solid choice for, ski patrol, rescue, and mountain professionals everywhere.

Ortovox Steel 320+ PFA Probe $109.95

Ortovox Steel 320+ PFA Avalanche Probe
Ortovox Steel 320+ PFA Avalanche Probe- 670 grams (1 lb 7.6 oz)

The biggest and most robust of the line-up, the high weight of this work-horse really lends itself to professional rescue and the back-country snowmobile crowd where an extra pound of weight will not be noticed.

Practice

No matter what probe you have it is imperative that you practice with it regularly. From my experience of teaching avalanche courses for over 10 years I can say that most people, even those who have owned a probe for a few seasons, have not practiced with them enough. How should you practice? Consider running “deployment” drills where you must remove your backpack, access your pack, and deploy your probe correctly, all under a stopwatch. Race your friends and touring partners. Make it a game. You will be surprised how much people can fumble and struggle with the locking mechanism on their probe. The bottom line is in an avalanche rescue every second counts and a lot of time can be lost if you are not efficient at deploying your probe. Take the time to get proficient!

Pro-tip

Don’t take your avalanche probe storage sack into the back-county. Leave it at home and use it for home-storage and travel. Taking it into the field slows your ability to deploy your probe quickly and they often get blown away and lost in the lightest of winds.

Summary

I hope you’ve found this post informative and educational. At the end of the day there are a ton of great probes on the market these days from quite a few different companies. I obviously love the Ortovox line and I think when you objectively compare features and get some hands-on time with any of these models you’ll feel the same way.

Training

Consider upgrading your rescue skills with the all new 8 hour AIARE Avalanche Rescue Course! This is a fantastic addition in the field of avalanche education and something you should consider if you’ll be spending time in avalanche terrain in the future! If you haven’t taken an AIARE 1 course yet, or maybe it’s been awhile, it’s not to late to get in on a course this season! See what dates we have left here! (Use promo code “DavidNEM” when booking)!

Purchase

All of these models can be purchased directly from Backcountry.com here. A small percentage of your purchase will go to Northeast Alpine Start to support creating content like this. Thank you for your support!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Part 1: Avalanche Transceivers (Beacons)

Part 2: Avalanche Probes

Part 3: Avalanche Shovels

Part 4: Avalanche Airbags (coming soon)

Affiliate links above support this blog. Author is an Ortovox Team Athlete and so received any product mentioned at no cost.