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Choosing the right avi gear for Niseko

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#1
lastrocker

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Hi there, i'm gonna spend one month in Niseko, and i finally decided to buy the proper avi gear.

I say finally cause i rode slackcountry and a bit of backcountry for the last 10 years, with no avi gear at all. I know it's wrong, i know i risked my life, but it was my local resort, wich is kinda small and nothing really happened over there, plus i know every single inch of it, and last but not least none of my friends has it, so it would be kinda useless being the only one with a transceiver. Not an excuse, it's just to say that i'm a bit experienced in backcountry even if i don't have any gear.

I found a great deal on an ABS, 400€, around 500$, so i'm pretty tempted to buy it... but i'm short in money (super short, i thought i had more savings but i have barely the money for the trip, no jokes), so that would mean no transceiver.

Do you think it could be a good choice? Keep in mind i travel up there alone, i hope to meet some people and ride with them but i don't really know if they will have a pieps or if they know how to use it. And i will probably hit the slopes alone every now and then, or even quite often, so that's another point.

If i don't buy the ABS i'll go for the pieps, and probably an avalung.

The point against the ABS is i have a weak back and traveling with a heavy backpack is kinda discomforting for me. The ABS pack alone is 3kg, with a shovel and probes it will be 5kg. And the fact that i cannot find other people if in trouble.

#2
Mamabear

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I'd buy the transceiver, shovel, probe etc before I bought the ABS bag...that's just me.

ABS is great for those wicked chutes they tackle on the Freeride Tour and if you wanted to be kitted up to the eyeballs and budget was no restriction, well sure...buy one for a month in Niseko. But you don't need it. There hasn't been an Avie death there in such a long time. You are talking very stable snowpack and pretty mellow pitches for the most part - slides happen, but are less of a concern than it would be in big mountain Euro Alps situations. There the layers tend to be quite different, less stable, and the pitch and chutes can funnel disaster rapidly. Heavy snowfalls shut the resorts while they bomb. In Niseko heavy falls get everyone whooping and hollering for joy and getting amongst it.

Yes, you must take care.
If the gates are closed, they are closed for a reason.
Know your snowpack.
Have your gear - the stuff that can rescue someone else and can help you be rescued - if you are planning on real backcountry.
Leave the fluff (the ABS) for when you have a bit more cash.

Also be aware that getting the gas canisters that set the ABS thing off from Italy to Japan and filled is not going to be easy.
IMHO it's something you buy for your home mountain if you do sketchy stuff, or something you let your manager sort out for you if you are paid to fly around the world doing sketchy stuff...

Just one Bears opinion.

#3
Besniwod

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I second what Mambear said.

Also, do you have any avalanche education? This is more valuable than the equipment as the equipment is only useful if you know how to use it. You need to be familiar enough with using your equipment to be able to use them under the extreme stress of a rescue situation as well. In addition, the safety equipment is only there as a last resort as avalanche rescues are not very successful. You need the avalanche awareness to keep yourself out of the situation in the first place.

There are a couple of English language Avalanche Skills Training courses offered in Niseko. It might be an idea to take one if you haven’t taken an avi course already.

#4
gozaimaas

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If nothing else do the level 1 course and read bruce trempers book staying alive in avalanche terrain. The knowledge is your biggest tool.
In japan may 3-25

#5
Method

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Quote

I'd buy the transceiver, shovel, probe etc before I bought the ABS bag


I'd actually go the other way, if you had to choose between one or the other, I think I'd take the airbag - well the reality is, if you can afford an airbag then you can afford a beacon, probe and shovel. You going to pay all this money for a holiday, airfares, snow gear, accom etc and you can't spend an extra $300USD on a beacon, shovel and probe? I'm not criticising btw, I bought a new shell/pants this year for a cool $700 and I remember baulking at the airbag (which I haven't bought yet, but will do) because of the price - how silly!

RE: the weight factor. If you can't carry an extra 5kg worth of safety gear in the backcountry without major discomfort, I'd question what you're doing out there. Your board or skis/poles + clothes probably weigh more than that!

Branching slightly off topic - I've gone out in the backcountry with people I've met only "briefly" and in retrospect I think it was a mistake not to at least spend a few minutes talking honestly about your level of experience and knowledge should there be some problem i.e. avalanche. Remember, if you are buried, you're TOTALLY 100% dependent on the people you're out there with. It's like drowning in slightly slow motion. I think I'd rather be floating on top of the snow not relying on someone to dig me out, to get back to your "airbag or beacon" question.

Having said all that, I find, GENERALLY SPEAKING (i.e. not all the time!), that the avalanche risk on Hokkaido in mid-winter is much lower than other northern hemisphere locations. The snowpack is deep, it's nice and cold pretty much all the time, there's rarely any cold still nights that encourge surface hoar. The major problem is probably wind-loading loading of leeward slopes or cross-loading (kozan-no-sawa is a good example, although that gets plenty of skier compaction), although, of course people have died in the niseko BC, fujiwara-no-sawa (named after someone who died there btw), kozan-no-sawa etc.

Regarding transportation with a full gas cylinder, you must carry the cylinder as carry-on baggage and you must inform the airline before-hand. The exception to this is the USA, where you'll have to have the cylinder empty and open for the homeland security people to inspect inside, which creates it's own set of logistical problems. Do a google search on this for IATA documentation, particularly when it comes to somewhere like Japan.

#6
gozaimaas

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I will be in hokkaido alone also and looking to ride with like minded people but if I show up with my beacon/shovel/probe, I can save you, but you with your airbag cant save me so I wont be happy lol.
On the other hand if you are riding solo the beacon/shovel/probe cant save yourself but the airbag can.

BUT if you have not read the book or done the course I am instantly scared of what silly things you could do that would put us both in danger. Once again the knowledge is the biggest tool you can arm yourself with.
In japan may 3-25

#7
Mamabear

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So to recap (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, or you disagree) but in order of importance.

Knowing your limitations and ability.
Being aware that dangers exist.
Checking current avi danger and conditions.
Following direction (closed gates and Avi warning).
Riding with likeminded mates
Avi awareness (preferably an approved course)
Shovel and probe
Beacon

On top of this, for your personal preference, and if you are riding alone:
(in no particular order)
First Aid and emergency kit (one of those thermal blankets could be handy)
Avalung
ABS airbag system

Sound about right to others?
Did I miss something?


#8
gozaimaas

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Avi Awareness ranked 6th????
Should be #1,#2 and #3.

Not to harp on but once you read the book, or study it for months as I did, then take the course you realise how dangerous you were before you armed yourself with the avi knowledge and also how much you "thought you knew".

To put this in perspective its kind of like bush walking in summer and putting all your effort into carrying snake anti venom in case you get bitten when your efforts are better spent learning how snakes behave and how to avoid them in the first place. All the anti venom in the world wont save you if you walk straight into an indiana jones style snake pit lol.
In japan may 3-25

#9
Method

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goz

Quote

I will be in hokkaido alone also and looking to ride with like minded people


when will that be? I will be there on the 26th for a week and then late january again.

Yes, I have a beacon, probe and shovel!

#10
Mamabear

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View Postgozaimaas, on 19 December 2012 - 04:29 PM, said:

Avi Awareness ranked 6th????
Should be #1,#2 and #3.

Not to harp on but once you read the book, or study it for months as I did, then take the course you realise how dangerous you were before you armed yourself with the avi knowledge and also how much you "thought you knew".

To put this in perspective its kind of like bush walking in summer and putting all your effort into carrying snake anti venom in case you get bitten when your efforts are better spent learning how snakes behave and how to avoid them in the first place. All the anti venom in the world wont save you if you walk straight into an indiana jones style snake pit lol.
Yes sorry, that is probably the wording rather than the ranking. Awareness is really at 1 and 2 (knowing your ability and being aware that dangers do exist), by Avie awareness I really meant training - a course preferably.

#11
BoredRider

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View Postgozaimaas, on 19 December 2012 - 10:50 AM, said:

If nothing else do the level 1 course and read bruce trempers book staying alive in avalanche terrain. The knowledge is your biggest tool.


Another one for reading that book (or another similar one) and doing an AST-1 course. Would also go beacon, shovel & probe before the bag if you plan to ride with others..

Also, you can not fly with or air freight the ABS air canisters (even empty from what I hear). So getting it to Niseko would be a mission.

#12
gozaimaas

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View PostMethod, on 19 December 2012 - 05:11 PM, said:

goz

Quote

I will be in hokkaido alone also and looking to ride with like minded people


when will that be? I will be there on the 26th for a week and then late january again.

Yes, I have a beacon, probe and shovel!

I touch down jan 21. Send me a pm if you want to hook up for some backcountry missions.
In japan may 3-25

#13
Method

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View PostBoredRider, on 20 December 2012 - 10:48 AM, said:

View Postgozaimaas, on 19 December 2012 - 10:50 AM, said:

If nothing else do the level 1 course and read bruce trempers book staying alive in avalanche terrain. The knowledge is your biggest tool.


Another one for reading that book (or another similar one) and doing an AST-1 course. Would also go beacon, shovel & probe before the bag if you plan to ride with others..

Also, you can not fly with or air freight the ABS air canisters (even empty from what I hear). So getting it to Niseko would be a mission.






Quote

Also, you can not fly with or air freight the ABS air canisters (even empty from what I hear). So getting it to Niseko would be a mission.



That's incorrect, as I said in my original post, a FULL gas canister can be taken, but it must be taken as carry-on and you must inform the airline beforehand.

The USA is the exception, where you can only take an EMPTY cylinder, which is a TSA requirement so they can check inside the cylinder, NOT an airline requirement.

So in the USA is not a problem if you are taking self re-fillable cylinders (e.g. BCA), but ABS (non-refillable) you will need to get a cylinder locally.

If I was taking an ABS brand (they are nitrogen filled so there's no risk putting it in your checked bag), I'd be tempted to put it in my checked luggage.

#14
lastrocker

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I forgot to say some more thing...
First, i already read a couple of good books about avalanche safety. Second, i already planned to do an avi course up there in niseko. Third, i already know the basics, i used to film a lot of snowboard stuff as a living and during a series of contest there was a super basic avi course about arva and probing, and i played hide and seek several times.
Last thing, i rode 100-150 days per years for 10 years straight, in every condition, so i'm not the most experienced, but neither a novice.
All the things you all guys said are definitely good points about avalanche, but i'm still not sure about the best choice. Why? Simple, cause here in this forum i read a similar topic where it's stated that A LOT of people ride Niseko backcountry with no avi gear at all. So should i always go out there only with trusted people? How could i really know their awareness level? And if i don't make new friends for days what should i do, stay on-piste? Yes i should, but it won't go that way.
Consider this, and the fact that i can pay an ABS for half the price, and buying it instead of a "standard" kit doesn't sound that bad.
To be honest i'm still leaning toward the beacon, shovel and probe, but the discounted ABS is damn tempting.

#15
lastrocker

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Uh, and about my back, yes it's weak, after so many years of riding (10 on the snow and more thant 20 on a skateboard) i have two lumbar discopathy that with a lot of exercises are now ok but the less weight i put on my back, the more years i will spend on the slopes, but that doesn't mean i cannot lift my board and clothes around. 5 extra kg for prolonged time can do the difference.
And, this time the very last thing, i found myself in sketchy situations several times. This happen to everyone who spends lot of time out in the mountains. Sure i don't ride the crazy steep spines or couloirs you can see in freeride flicks, but i straight lined tight stuff more than once. Things can and do go wrong even for average Joe, not only for Jeremy Jones.

#16
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View PostMethod, on 20 December 2012 - 04:40 PM, said:



That's incorrect, as I said in my original post, a FULL gas canister can be taken, but it must be taken as carry-on and you must inform the airline beforehand.

The USA is the exception, where you can only take an EMPTY cylinder, which is a TSA requirement so they can check inside the cylinder, NOT an airline requirement.

So in the USA is not a problem if you are taking self re-fillable cylinders (e.g. BCA), but ABS (non-refillable) you will need to get a cylinder locally.

If I was taking an ABS brand (they are nitrogen filled so there's no risk putting it in your checked bag), I'd be tempted to put it in my checked luggage.


I checked and you are correct, my info was outdated...

This was on the Powdermania FB page a few weeks back but.

"Don’t ever send an avalanche airbag with a full cartridge with the DHL service of the German post office.
In Frankfurt they opened it and now refuse to send it to Japan and not even send it back to Switzerland. I have to get it at the Airports International Post office.
This is ridiculous and sucks big time. Anyone in Frankfurt and traveling to Switzerland soon?"

#17
Go Native

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Unless you're expecting to do some fairly serious backcountry trips I'd suggest that you don't need any avi gear at all in Niseko. Or for the one or two trips that you might just need it, hire it. If all you're mostly intending on doing is accessing the sidecountry through the gates there's no need for avi gear. There is a real difference between sidecountry and backcountry. The sidecountry is the slopes easily accessible from the gates. The gates are controlled, so are closed on high avi danger days. The gates have been in operation now for over 10 years and there has not been one avi death from people accessing the sidecountry through the gates in that time. Not one in what is without doubt one of the snowiest regions on the planet. That's a pretty amazing safety record. So I'd argue strongly against there being any need to have the gear if all you're doing is accessing the terrain through the gates. By all means have if that's what you really want but there's no compelling argument for there to be a real need to have it.

#18
Mamabear

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Two things to add:

While I completely agree with GN about the sidecountry safety given a bit of awareness and understanding, there was a fairly recent Avie death in Niseko after access was made to an area where the gate was closed. The risks are there, but if you do the safe thing, follow the advice of the area experts, then you should be sweet.

While I still believe it is inconsiderate to ride with others without gear to find and save them, I just read the following this morning (took a while!!)
http://www.nytimes.c...rt=tunnel-creek
Three burials of expert skiers, large group of expert skiers all whom had gear, located the three fairly quickly however only the girl wearing the ABS pack survived. The gents sustained catastrophic injuries and were fully buried, would the ABS have helped? Who knows! But she came to rest with her head out, able to breathe, and spent a lot of the slide on or near the surface instead of being tumbled below on rocks and against tree's.

Perhaps you can get your on sale ABS system and have it handy in case you need it. Pretty nice insurance.
And if you DO venture out into the real backcountry just hire the gear for the day?

#19
seemore

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View PostMamabear, on 22 December 2012 - 07:30 PM, said:

Two things to add:

While I completely agree with GN about the sidecountry safety given a bit of awareness and understanding, there was a fairly recent Avie death in Niseko after access was made to an area where the gate was closed. The risks are there, but if you do the safe thing, follow the advice of the area experts, then you should be sweet.

While I still believe it is inconsiderate to ride with others without gear to find and save them, I just read the following this morning (took a while!!)
http://www.nytimes.c...rt=tunnel-creek
Three burials of expert skiers, large group of expert skiers all whom had gear, located the three fairly quickly however only the girl wearing the ABS pack survived. The gents sustained catastrophic injuries and were fully buried, would the ABS have helped? Who knows! But she came to rest with her head out, able to breathe, and spent a lot of the slide on or near the surface instead of being tumbled below on rocks and against tree's.

Perhaps you can get your on sale ABS system and have it handy in case you need it. Pretty nice insurance.
And if you DO venture out into the real backcountry just hire the gear for the day?

Good article not sure if I would ride there

#20
Mamabear

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Me either Seemore, seems like there are far safer powder runs in the world than that.

I did however like the information about the ABS and how it helped her. I also recall seeing some video of it in use in a slide - also a woman I believe, possibly the same one, but I don't think so given the story.

It is something I would part with cash for if I was going to be adventurous.
It is also something I would buy my kids (all of whom are taller than me, so we are not talking little tikes here) if I thought they were...







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