For spring backcountry skiing overnight trips with minimal avalanche danger, a smaller aluminum shovel is the ticket. Alu shovels work well for hacking a kitchen pit out of consolidated isothermic snow, and they don’t melt if you use them as a stove platform. But what’s the lightest aluminum shovel you can get?
The swirling organic dance of our gear planning seems to have developed a pattern; Wu Li. For a few days we’re content with an item of gear as to weight and function. Then we start thinking, or someone in the industry emails and says, “hey, we’ve got something you might be interested in.” In this case it was the latter.
In our Trooper Traverse gear list I’d included the Voile XLM shovel, which was advertised as 16 oz but weighed in at 17.8 ounces on the ultra-exacto WildSnow scales.
A whopping 1.8 ounces over a pound. Not much in some ways of thinking, but significant if you’re going for super incredible lightness.
(In case you’re wondering, our weights are ACCURATE. To make sure I run two scales, a Pelouze PE5 and SP5 with calibration checked by weighing 10 nickels at 50 grams. Both scales show the nickels at exactly 50 grams, and show item weights as exactly the same.)
Backcountry Access (BCA) saw our gear list and immediately threw their Tour Shovel on the scale. “Hey Lou,” they emailed me, “it looks like we might have a lighter shovel for you.” A couple of BCA Tour shovels arrived yesterday.
The weird thing is that our two BCA shovels don’t weigh the same. One hefts at 16.2 oz, the other at 17.1, almost an ounce difference! This offends our rigid Western minds, but hey, Wu Li. Let’s average it and say 16.7 ounces for a BCA (and now we get to fight over who carries the lighter BCA shovel — oh when will this ever end?).
The two Voile XLMs we have weigh 17.8 oz each, so there you go, the BCA tour saves us about an ounce. Yeah, the BCA blade is slightly smaller (where most of the weight savings resides), but it’s still big enough for our purposes. That said, I do like the XLM blade shape better for digging winter powder and possible soft slab avalanche rescue (I also like plastic shovels with larger blades) but the BCA is now our choice for spring, when its purpose is more utilitarian such as digging tent platforms and use as a stove base, etcetera).
Note, we’ve also been messing around with avalanche probes. To save weight, a larger group (4 or more) on a spring ski traverse doesn’t need one probe per person (one for every two or three will suffice). More, you might as well carry the lightest weight probes possible, and about 6 feet long is totally adequate. The Life-Link Speed Light probe weighs 6.5 ounces, and the BCA Companion, which fits in the BCA shovel handle, floats at 5.3 ounces. While somewhat short and not particularly strong, both probes would suffice for occasional practice and at least one real rescue.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.