This is more an “important ten” than a “top ten” list, and somewhat cooked up for people new to backcountry skiing. Please leave a comment with your own ideas.
Today, number 10: Believe it or not, starting a car with jumper cables takes some skill to do safely. And digging out the jumper cables is not exactly uncommon for backcountry skiers at remote trailheads. Sure, you can just match up the positive and negative terminals and hope for the best. But doing everything in the correct sequence, with attention to safety, will prevent damage to the vehicles and yourself (as in, who wants battery acid sprayed in their eyes?). I’ll admit I learned this the hard way, after melting a few cable clamps together. Luckily I’ve still got my eyesight.
I found a website with a textbook on the subject. Good to read, but you’ll probably have forgotten half the stuff by the time this coming season you’re actually at a trailhead with a jumper clamp in each hand, snow blowing in your face, and a shivering crew of backcountry newbies looking to you as their savior. The main things to remember are wear eye protection, avoid sparking, and for-sure identify the positive and negative battery terminals so you don’t hook the batteries up wrong.
Car batteries can produce flammable gas and in rare cases may explode or at least violently spurt acid. Thus, while you’re messing around with batteries wear eye protection. Ski goggles are perfect, or sunglasses if you prefer. While making sure the unused jumper clamps are not touching each other, clamp the bad battery terminals first. Then, while holding the two remaining jumper clamps in each hand hook the remaining positive clamp to the good battery. Last, if possible hook the remaining negative clamp to a metal chassis part or some clean metal on the engine block. When you do this you’ll get a spark, that’s why you don’t hook it to the battery since that little sizzle could ignite gas near the battery. That said, if you can’t find a good place for the neg clamp you’ll have to use the battery post. If so, keep your face away from the battery and remember that eye protection!
Gear Tips: I’ve found two things we really like for car battery emergencies. If you drive a larger vehicle, you might have room to carry a spare battery you can use for jump starting, running lights in camp and even powering a laptop computer. I got one at Wal-Mart and blogged it a while ago. The other thing I like, for smaller vehicles, are the compact jumper cables you can find if you look in the auto accessories departments of discount stores. These skinny things would probably melt if you used them to start a big-block truck engine, but they’re great for your Subaru or compact truck. Just look for jumper cables that are in a pouch about the size of your hand. Minimalist!
Oh, one other field tip. If you own a diesel pickup with two batteries, you may need two batteries to jump start it. That’s how our 2009 Silverado Duramax behaves. What can happen is you find your truck batteries are dead and you’ve only got one friend to run jumper cables from. Truck won’t start. Solution is to have a portable power pack stowed in your truck. Cheap insurance and you can use the power pack to jump start others without fooling around under your hood. Just remember to charge the portable pack a few times each year.
Jumper cables are easy to find, here is one shopping suggestion. Actually a good gift for someone just starting out with their first car.
Portable batteries that can jump start a car with and use for emergency power are fairly common. Here is one that you can get online.
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.