by Rob Coppolillo
“What’s in the pack?”
An important question. I’m usually wearing a day-glo one-piece when skiing, so women assume I’m asking as some sort of creepy come-on. You wise-and-experienced backcountry senders, though, probably have a better way with words than me.
What’s in the pack, you ask? Peace of mind.
For just a few pounds, you can dramatically improve your chances of being prepared for the unexpected. Swarms of locusts, gap-toothed meth-heads, inbred banjo boys, you name it, the backcountry dangers are endless. Fear not, however, as we’re going to break down a few critical items to help you deal.
Busting ourselves up is a realistic concern. Prevention is key, so skiing tight trees, riding shallow snowpacks, or hucking cliffs requires some forethought. Is it worth it? Is the landing safe (has your buddy probed it)? Somebody eventually blows it, though, so consider your med kit.
Over-the-counter drugs (NSAID’s, acetaminophen, an antihistamine) can improve patient comfort for minor illnesses and conditions. You’ll also want to consider any of your team’s prescription meds – anything critical and you should probably have a couple back-up pills. If anyone has ever had anaphylaxis, too, then an epi pen is probably essential.
For trauma, think about wound closure (cleaning a cut, then closing it) and splinting limbs. Splinting can get tricky and just a few minutes of planning will save you a ton of stress in the field. Consider how you’d treat the traditional “tib-fib” break, as well as a blown knee. Can you sling an arm in case somebody nukes a shoulder?
If you don’t have some ideas off the top of your head, then it’s probably a good indication you need to take a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course. NOLS, among many others, offers them throughout the US.
Evacuating Broken Bodies
Careful as we are, someone eventually busts her bacon, so think about splinting and moving her. This is one situation that can be pretty difficult to improvise if you haven’t thought ahead. At a minimum you should have a “guide’s tarp” (a sil-nylon tarp with which to build a shelter or wrap a patient), some means of fashioning a ski sled, and some cord with which to haul the package.
K2 makes a cool shovel system that helps build a rescue sled. The handles separate and have screw holes which marry to the holes in the shovels and tails of K2 skis. Carry a couple wing nuts and bolts, and you screw together a sled (put your patient atop it in the guide’s tarp!) in seconds flat. You can drill your own shovel and skis, too, if you want to DIY. Cross-brace the sled to prevent shifting by using the patient’s ski poles. Affix each pole grip to the shovel of a ski and to the rear binding on the other ski using a stretchy ski trap; always carry four.
There are several dedicated ski sleds available, the two best being the Alpine Threadworks and Brooks Range’s “Eskimo.”
Whatever system you choose, practice, practice, and practice some more. When it comes time to get it done, you’ll be psyched you did – as will your patient!
Broken gear is way less painful and stressful, but it can still be a crisis. Customize your repair kit to the gear you’re using. Double-check you’re carrying the tools necessary to fix your particular brands of bindings, boots, and skins. That means a bit-driver with the bits to adjust your release values, tighten binding bolts, and repair boot buckles.
A multi-tool with stout pliers is a must, too. Don’t waste weight carrying redundant bits on your multi-tool and bit-driver. Search for a multi-tool that has just what you need, nothing more. (I found one with just pliers and a blade, then carry a compact bit-driver that houses a few bits in its handle.)
To repair a binding ripped from a ski’s topsheet, I carry plain-old super glue, with some steel wool. Simply fill the hole with super-glue, then jam in some steel wool. Let it set for 30 seconds, then a dab of super glue into the hole and screw in the binding. It’ll probably get you home.
Epoxies are popular, but keep in mind, in sub-freezing temps, two-part epoxies will not cure quickly enough to be useful for a repair. If you do carry an epoxy product, look for the “marine” type, as it’s formulated to cure in wet environments.
I also stash some hose clamps (couple small, one huge), firestarter, and water-purification tablets in my repair kit. Try a small section of bicycle inner tube and a lighter for your fire kit. The stuff burns like crazy!
*I like having a ski scraper with me, too. Take an older one and cut one of the long sides on an angle, so it comes to a point; now you’ve got a scraper for ice/snow, with a pointed side to clear bindings of ice. Useful and cheap.
*Skin wax can turn a nightmare of sun-gloppy snow into a manageable tour. Carry just a small block of it year-round. Colorado’s bright sun is enough to monkey-jack almost any tour you do; be ready.
*A “Buff.” I resisted these for years, but now I own three. Use it as a hat, a neck gaiter, bandage, or even an eye-shade on an overnight flight. The branded “Buff” is longer and stretchier than Dynafit’s version (nice for cold days), but I prefer the Dynafit Primaloft version’s fabric.
*A high-quality, lightweight “puffy” or belay jacket is a must. If you end up bivy’ing or having to help with a rescue, this is the difference between life and death. Spend the cash on a hydrophobic down model (like Rab’s Infinity Endurance) or consider a synthetic model (C.A.M.P.’s Neutrino is great) if you live in a wet climate like the Pacific Northwest.
And the Pack Itself?
Ah, right, you’ll need somewhere to put all this sexy gear! If you’re not rocking a balloon pack (and why not, anyway?!), then shop around for a dedicated ski pack. My two favorites are the Pieps Plecotus 36 and Arc’teryx’s Khamski 38. Both well organized, not too heavy, and totally adapted to skiing/riding.
Avalanche Airbag packs have evolved and improved since their widespread introduction to the market nearly a decade ago. Backcountry Access’s Float 27 Tech seems to me the right balance between features, weight, and cost.
Whatever voodoo you choose for your repair, med, and backcountry kits, just make sure it works for you. You’ll be ready for the unexpected and you can turn a crisis into an inconvenience, instead of the other way around.
So ask yourself, what’s in the pack? You owe yourself and your teammates an answer. Go charge!
For more information on a recommended packing list, please visit: http://avtraining.org/