Portable Emergency Sled for Backcountry Skiing

| April 27, 2016

One of the more unglamorous aspects of being a ski mountaineering guide is carrying all of the emergency gear which adds considerable weight to your pack which you hope you will never have to use. At the top of the list is an emergency sled, which is generally expensive dead weight. I’ve owned a variety of them and have yet to actually use them for their intended main purpose – hauling a person off of a slope.

On a recent trip to Alaska, I brought along a very basic sled as I wasn’t sure if we’d need one for hauling gear, but afterwards, it occurred to me that it would also work as an emergency sled. As an added bonus, it is only $7.50 through Amazon.com and weighs 435 grams.

To rig the sled, first the tips are stuffed into the hand holes and then a long loop is tied off to the bindings, leaving a grab line for both the front and back of the sled.

Although this is called a sled and sold as a sled, it is really just a piece of tough plastic with a couple of holes cut in the tips. The holes are supposed to be for holding on while sledding, but they also accept ski tips very well.


I modified the sled by adding brass grommets at both ends, plus a string of them along each side.  These allow things like bodies or bags to be tightly strapped burrito style  to the sled using a cordelette (20ish feet of 6mm accessory cord), which you will probably already have as part of a glacier kit.

For hauling, I clove hitch my glacier rope off to the bindings, which gives me a nice, strong attachment point.


To actually load and haul a person, first the skis are set in place, then a pack is used for padding and then the whole thing is bundled up via the grommets with the accessory cord.


Although it is bigger and stiffer than an Alpine Threadworks or Brooks Range emergency sled, it can be slipped into a top-loader backpack as a “liner” where it takes up almost no room in the pack.


The sled is made out of some cross-linked polysomething material and is incredibly durable.  It can get completely crumpled, crushed and folded, but still bounce right back into a flat shape. As an added bonus, it can be used as a seat liner or underneath your sleeping bag to help keep it dry, or as a cutting board.

Help support StraightChuter.com and put a worthy duffel bag on your sled with a Mountain Hardwear Expeditions Duffel Bag from Backcountry.com. Click on the photo below.


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Category: 02 Gear, Gear

About the Author ()

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

Comments (5)

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  1. Thanks, very interesting, but … curious if you have actually tried using it … with an actual person … over actual backcountry terrain? I’ve had some of my students test out various designs (prepackaged, improvised, somewhere in between, etc.), and even just over a hundred vertical feet or so the results are not always as expected. (Or at least as hoped for!)

  2. Dave H says:

    I’m liking the shorter design, I wonder if the ski tails sticking out the back would have a rudder/fin effect help a patient track straighter on a slight off angle traverse. I think a competition is needed! The Wasatch 1 mile.

  3. Hi Jonathan – I haven’t hauled a person with this system, but with emergency sleds in general, improvisation is essential. I don’t think it is going to be anywhere near as deluxe as a rigid ski resort sled, but do think it will be on par with other burrito style emergency sleds. In any case, I’ll carry and can afford this one, so it is therefore good. How does it fair in a 2 mile backcountry evacuation race? I don’t know – it will probably slide better (it is after all a sled…) and then might have other short comings.

  4. Rick says:

    sorry to hijack–maybe start a new thread?? but what of all this?


  5. Scott says:

    Thanks for the great idea! I had an old crazy carpet with rivets(used as a sled on a previous trip) and I followed your directions plus made some additions. For example:
    1. I attached a piece of pack strap webbing(15mm width) to the rivot in between the handles of the sled.
    2. Clipped a carabiner to this webbing.
    3. Clove hitched the cordelette coming from each toe piece to the aformentioned carabiner.
    4. Tightened clove hitches to ensure ski tips would not slide backwards.
    5. Drilled two ski slots into a 16″ long piece of PVC pipe.
    6. Drilled 2 holes in the middle of the same PVC piping.
    7. Slid the PVC piping up the tail of the skis to behind the bindings to prevent side to side movement.
    8. Used the two holes in the middle of the PVC pipe to attach to the grommet at the back of the sled.

    Thanks again for the great idea. Now I need to take it out and test it.

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