I’ve been called a moron for not carrying a probe, but in truth, I’m only a 3/4 moron as I do carry one occasionally, namely on expeditions or when skiing with a large group of people. I like them for expeditions as they serve many uses – marking caches, anchoring tents, probing for crevasses or perhaps body recovery after a big avalanche. I carry them if I’m skiing with a large group of people as the potential for somebody getting caught and buried is much higher with large groups and if there are already three people digging, probing can’t hurt. I’ve carried a probe on the few occasions I’ve guided as it makes me appear more responsible. Probes are also handy for avalanche forecasting work, both for feeling layers and the scale on the side.
My personal probe history:
1) I took four different probes to a beacon test park and came away with the conclusion that the only ones worth carrying were the big, burly aluminum ones. The dinky shovel handle versions bent like a pretzel when you tried to ram them into hard snow and were worthless. On one of the small diameter carbon-fiber models, the pierce point was so hard to extract that it ended up splintering the tensioning device at the other end of the probe. The beefy ones held up, but they are heavy and bulky.
2) The one time I’ve been buried, my legs were sticking out and a probe wasn’t needed.
3) The one time two friends were killed in a Class 5 avalanche, probes made no difference.
4) The one time I’ve dug a friend out of a 8′ burial, it took all four of us digging at 100% just to get down to the 6′ level. At that point, we probed with a flipped-over ski pole and although we got a strike, we were already digging straight towards the victim and the probe or lack of it made no difference in the eventual outcome. Big shovels are more important than probes, IMO.
I prefer to ski with a small group of people (group of 3-4 at the most) or if the group is larger, stick to mellower terrain. If I’m only skiing with one partner and one of us gets buried, getting the person excavated is the #1 priority, and if it is a deep burial I think my time is better spent shoveling and working a beacon signal than probing. My beacon, like most of them nowadays, has an incredibly accurate fine search mode to it and will go down to .5 meter, in which case you could probe with a shovel blade or ski pole grip.
I’m not sure how probes became part of the holy trinity of backcountry safety gear – beacon, shovel & probe. The idea of probing for bodies predates beacons by decades, but that doesn’t mean that they actually saved many lives, but more that there was just no other options.
I’m sure there are studies out there proving that probes save lives, but there are also studies on helmets, sat phones, PLB’s, CPR masks, cell phones, Avalungs and radios which prove beyond a doubt that you’d have to be a moron to go without, yet I don’t carry any of them either. As Steve Bullock commented on a previous post, it is a trade-off between freedom and risk, as almost everything is in backcountry skiing. I could see carrying a probe as part of a sidecountry or slackcountry kit, or as a Ski Patroller where your pack was light to begin with, but for a full day of touring, carrying a big beefy probe (again, the only ones I think are worth carrying) is right at my personal weight threshold.