Ditch the Plastic Shovel

| September 11, 2008

By the numbers, plastic shovels are supposedly as strong (or stronger) than steel and able to withstand incredibly low temperatures.  Their big selling points are that they are lighter and cheaper than metal.  The weight claims are a bit suspect as plastic shovels tend to be on the small side, which naturally makes them lighter, but also less functional.  When it comes to cost, there is no denying they are less expensive, but is $30 really worth it?

A plastic shovel which shattered catastrophically while digging a tent out.  The tent survived, but a buried partner probably would not have.
A plastic shovel which shattered catastrophically while digging a tent out. The tent survived, but a buried partner may not have.

The biggest issue with plastic shovels is that they fail catastrophically without warning.  A metal blade on the other hand usually gives you some warning (if you are paying attention) in the form of bending or cracking, and can be nursed through an expedition and/or replaced before they have a chance to fail in the field.

Help support StraightChuter.com and get a reliable metal Dakine Wedge D-Handle Shovel from Backcountry.com! Click on the photo below…

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Category: 02 Gear

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (5)

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  1. Terry says:

    Thanks for posting this, Andrew. Amazing how many skiers are still packing these absolute crap shovels. Not only do they break, they also bounce off ice and don’t penetrate hard snow.

    Mitch Weber from ttips had a great piece about dumping plastic a few years back, with links to a variety of cases where plastic shovels have failed:

  2. Terry says:

    PS after seeing the photos from this link
    last year, I bought a shovel with a larger blade, aluminum of course. The size of the hole these guys had to dig to excavate their buddy brought home just how big the job might be.

  3. Andrew says:

    WOW! That was a burly burial! Thanks for posting the link. Getting someone out alive in two meters of deep, heavy snow is a perfect rescue.

    I noticed he said he had ding marks in his helmet from probing and it appears the rescuers used a type of strategic shoveling technique where they came in from the downhill side. It might even change my mind about probes. :)

    I wonder how many people dug him out? There must have been a few if one of them had enough time to take photos.

  4. Terry says:

    There were 3 total in the party, the splitboarder who was buried and 2 skiers who dug him out. Mt. Proctor is just north of Fernie, B.C. – you can see it from town. The CAC report link doesn’t seem to work anymore, but I saved it at the time in my email:

    Avalanche Involvement Report
    Canadian Avalanche Centre

    Date/Time: 2007-01-07 02:30
    Description: Cold Feet Bowl, N. Ridge Mt. Proctor
    Coordinates: 945 395 (UTM-7 NAD1983)
    Mtn Range: Rocky Mountains Province: BC

    Type: Family/Friends Activity: Backcountry Skiing
    Size: 3

    Number: 1 Size: Size class 2 Type: Slab avalanche
    Trigger: Sa (Part)
    Dimension: 200m wide; ran for 250m; average slab depth of 150cm.
    Failure Pl.: Old – Bed surface: CR (2007-12-06)
    Starting Zone: Location: Treeline at approx. 1820m.
    Character: E; 27 degrees; ~; Sparse Forest.
    Comment: We skied a variation of the same slope the previous day. Snow felt good, No sign of cracking, sloughing or settlements. Overnight cool conditions and clear skies helped the level of confidence. During the run we stayed in the trees, safer terrain then previous day. Released a 1.5 mid slope while skiing the edge of the trees. Regrouped and came up with a plan for the remainder of the trees. Nearing the end of the trees. one snowboarder stopped below a large tree. 2 skiers at safe places above. large settlement was observed and slabbed from 60m of trees above. Resulted in 2m burial, 300m ride and 10-15m dig out. 5 min after airway was exposed the snowboarder regained consciousness and toured back to parked snowmobile.

    Number of people involved: 1 completely buried.
    Number of people injured: None.
    Property damage: one glove was lost – Estimated value: $120.

    Weather: Partly cloudy, -10 at ridgtop
    Snowpack: 180-200cm at ridge top (7500) Mod shear 60cm deep within storm snow on opposite aspect as skied, not visible on aspect skied. Dec 6 ice crust down 150, no results within tests.



    Date and Time of Report: 2008-01-07 18:39

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