Here’s What an Avalanche-Safety Professional Carries in His Pack
Seasoned backcountry skier Jake Urban shares his kit for touring
When I ask Jake Urban how many avalanche instructors he’s trained over the years, he tells me, “Hundreds for sure, but I’ve lost the exact count.” I’m following a couple ski lengths behind him on Wyoming’s Teton Pass, watching him put in a skin track and peppering him with questions about kick turns, layering, and his path through the outdoor industry.
Urban knows backcountry skiing as well as anyone. With 25 years of backcountry-skiing experience, 12 years developing curriculum for the American Institute of Avalanche Research, and nine years training search and rescue teams around the Tetons (not to mention practicing as a licensed American Mountain Guides Association guide), he’s dedicated his life to learning and teaching others about how to mitigate and deal with risk in snowy environments. Three years ago, Urban founded the Jackson Hole Outdoor Leadership Institute, an avalanche-education and emergency-medicine organization.
In between laps, Urban and I stop to look through his pack. The first thing that stands out is how methodically organized it is: gear that’s most likely to be used has been placed on top, where it’s easy to access, with less needed supplies pushed to the bottom. What follows is a list of the equipment he carries.
BCA Link 2.0 radio: Before opening his pack, Urban shows me his radio, which is attached to a shoulder strap. A good radio helps you communicate with your group and, if necessary, emergency services. This version of the Link has a longer range and longer-lasting battery than previous iterations, and it stands up to the elements better than most radios on the market.
A cell phone with the Gaia app: Unzipping his shell, Urban takes his cell phone out of a bib pocket. He suggests downloading offline maps on an app like Gaia before heading into the backcountry, even if you know the area well. He doesn’t use Gaia on every tour but says it’s always good to have in a pinch if something goes wrong. (Keeping it inside his shell helps keep the battery from dying prematurely in the cold.)
“Possibles” bag: Next came a small water-resistant stuffsack filled with items that he might need on a tour. This includes snacks, wipes for a bathroom break, sunscreen, and a Garmin InReach Mini satellite device for communication backup.
The Mammut Rock Rider helmet and Smith Skyline goggles: The first thing to come out of Urban’s pack is this lightweight helmet, ideal for fast alpine missions. Below it are a pair of the Skyline goggles, which boast a large field of view and easy integration with helmets.
Ortovox avy tools: In a separate avy tool pocket, Urban stashes his shovel, probe, snow saw, and cord, which he uses for testing snowpack and making observations. He also straps a Ortovox Diract beacon to his body; this transceiver is a cinch to use, light, and equipped with a long-lasting battery, but its most notable feature is that it offers spoken directions when searching for a signal.
Water: Urban carries at least a liter of water, depending on the length of the tour. He often uses a Nalgene, because it’s simple and durable. He says that staying hydrated on tours–especially lengthy ones– is essential for safety, so you don’t crash if you have to stay out longer than expected.
Extra clothing: Most people aren’t prepared for the worst, says Urban, noting how even an accident in the sidecountry of a resort could mean an hour in the snow before ski patrol gets to you. He typically packs heavyweight mittens, a spare hat, and a buff, plus the Flylow General down jacket, and Flylow Malone Gore-Tex shell.
A warm drink: Urban always totes along an insulated bottle filled with a warm drink, such as tea. He suggests that you save this for the second half of your tour, to help warm you up if needed. Even for short tours, he’ll bring this just in case.
First aid kit: A well-stocked kit with tape, bandages, medications, a splint, scissors, and other tools is a given. Of course, getting proper first aid training is helpful to make sure you know how to use the kit correctly.
Repair kit: Urban’s kit encompasses a variety of tools—like a multitool, skin wax, ski wax, a spare tail clip, ski straps, and quick-set epoxy, to name a few. He says it’s important you know how to fix your bindings, boots, and skis in the field, so you can always get back to your car.
Apocalypse Equipment guide tarp: A small tarp is immensely useful in emergency situations. It can be used to help insulate someone from the cold, package an injury, create a bivy or shelter, or even serve as an improvised sled. Urban prefers the Apocalypse tarp because it’s durable, light, and packable.