Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Is it winter yet? UIAA unveils new Standard for avalanche shovels

It's September, and last week it hit 24-degrees F on the summit of Mt Washington here in New England, so despite fires raging across the Western US and Canada and tropical storms across the Southeastern US, winter can't be far away.  Here at Mammut North American HQ we're busy putting the final finishing touches on our plans for the new Barryvox and Barryvox S avalanche transceivers, which will begin shipping early in October, and we have a number of informational posts tee'd up so people can get up to speed on these new beacons, as well as on our usual general interest-topics and events calendar for the season.  If you are interested in keeping up to date this winter and haven't subscribed to this blog, please do so on the right margin below the "tags"--we promise to keep the spam to an absolute minimum!

This is just a dude with a broken shovel.  It's annoying when you can't dig out your driveway to get to work, it's quite a different thing if your shovel were to break in an emergency.  The new standard should give users information to help ensure the equipment they are using is worthy in a rescue.
Speaking of general interest topics, the UIAA, The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation, has recently unveiled a new Standard for avalanche rescue shovels.  The new standard, UIAA 156 (link), sets parameters for the size, geometry and strength that an avalanche shovel must meet in order to pass the testing, and has been in the works for quite some time.  Previous to this Standard there was no industry-wide standard for shovels so users had no independent verification of what was deemed to be an acceptable rescue tool.


The genesis of the new standard was tales of shovels routinely breaking during practice or training sessions.  Obviously no piece of lightweight equipment is immune from breaking, and for heavy industrial use such as during an organized rescue or at a ski area or even for constant use digging out tents on fixed camps like you might encounter on a guided Rainier trip, a heavy industrial tool may be better suited and more durable than a lightweight model designed to be carried.  However, since a rescue shovel is a critical piece of RESCUE equipment, it makes perfect sense that giving both users and manufacturers specific guidance on what constitutes an acceptably durable tool can be helpful.  For a user it means there is an independent stamp of approval on what products are deemed to perform acceptably well, which is a benefit if there is sub-standard equipment available--and with the proliferation of ultralight skimo race-oriented gear there may very well be.

It's worth noting that as of July 2017, none of the test labs are set up to begin testing--this should happen in the near future, but this timing means that it's very likely many good shovels will NOT be tested yet for the fall/winter of 2017 into spring of 2018.  It's reasonable to expect that shovels would be fully tested and labeled as having passed the test no earlier than the fall of 2018.  We'll try to keep this post updated as this timing evolves.

Based on Mammut's in-house testing, all of Mammut's current product offering meets the new standard for both size and strength--including our 460-gram Alugator Light model--but will not be labeled or officially certified until an independent lab performs the official testing.  (update sept 2017:  The Alugator Light has been independently certified to meet the UIAA standard, but will not be labeled as such since the shovels were already produced and shipped before this)  We aren't sure how this new standard will affect some of the ultra-light race gear that has become popular over the past few seasons, but if nothing else even the length requirement will be problematic for some of the short, fixed-shaft shovels and some of the "scoop"-type "shovels" that some people are carrying, and the strength requirements will also likely prevent many shovels from being certified.  At this point neither of the race organizers I spoke with had heard anything about the ISMF altering their gear requirements based on the UIAA standard, at least in the USA...we'll see about the future. However, recreational riders and others who will use their shovel as both an assessment tool as well as potentially rescue equipment may want to look twice at their gear if they are using one of the crop of ultralight shovels that are designed more for the race-course than for actually digging up a partner; luckily in the future we should have some independent measure of which of the light-weight equipment actually stands up to real use.

You can read more about the new standard on the UIAA blog HERE (link).

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