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Are you ready for avalanche season?



By Dave Zinn EBS Contributor

Photos and videos courtesy of Dave Zinn

The first flakes of snow in the sky prompt a collective rush to gather riding, snowboarding, and skiing equipment. For some, the first snow means seeking areas with (arguably) enough coverage to make the first turns of the new season, but before heading to the hills be sure that all your avalanche rescue equipment is functioning and get out to practice. Remember the adage, “If there is enough snow to ride, there is enough snow to slide.”

Everyone traveling in steep snow-covered terrain beyond the boundaries of a ski area should have three primary pieces of equipment – an avalanche beacon, rescue shovel, and probe – and know how to properly use them. Unsurprisingly, equipment left broken and worn as the snow melted last spring did not magically repair itself during the summer. Here are the checks to perform before heading out this season:

3-Antenna Digital Avalanche Beacon

  • Replace the batteries and confirm that the contacts are in good condition.
  • Ensure the battery power is at 100% and all buttons/ dials/ switches are functioning. 

Metal Avalanche Shovel:

  • Inspect the metal blade and handle for wear or cracking.
  • Assemble and test the shovel to make sure it operates smoothly.
  • File the cutting edge of the blade smooth so it doesn’t tear up your backpack.

Avalanche Probe:

  • Inspect the tensioning cable for fraying and damage.
  • Assess the locking mechanism.
  • Assemble the probe.

Avalanche Airbag (optional):

  • Check the canister pressure or battery charge (now and before each day’s use).
  • Charge or refill canister as needed.
  • Know how to assemble the airbag. 
  • Perform a test deployment.

Confirming that your essential avalanche safety equipment is organized and in working order is the first step in your pre-season preparation. Next, gather a group of friends in the backyard and get the grill going. While you are waiting for food, time yourselves as you transition from having your gear in backpacks to “ready-to-rescue” mode. Hide transmitting beacons around the yard and perform searches.

Finally, go to for online avalanche education tools and a calendar of local classes to get yourself and your crew into an avalanche safety mindset. 

We are all excited to see snow fly and kick off a fantastic winter of recreation in the mountains. Perform these simple checks and be ready when the winter arrives. Find relevant avalanche information and forecasts from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center all winter at

Dave Zinn is an Avalanche Forecaster for the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center. He has been with GNFAC since 2019 and has eleven years of ski patrol experience at Bridger Bowl and the Yellowstone Club.

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