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The Human Factors of Gear Failure

As we reflect upon technology advancements, especially over the past decade, it is awe inspiring to see how far we have come. Get the gear, get the training, get the forecast....then you are good to go, right?  Wrong, for no matter the technology advancements there is still the human factor to consider.  


The avalanche transceiver, which is sometimes referred to as an avalanche beacon, has evolved tremendously since the days of the analog single antennae models. While you should buy the latest and greatest it isn’t the only factor to consider when it comes to transceiver safety.

  1. Can you use it effectively?  Having a transceiver is totally pointless if you have no idea how to use it.  Practice with your equipment frequently to keep your skills sharp and be sure to perform a range test for effectiveness at least at the beginning of each season to ensure the transceiver is not compromised. You will become familiar with how to use your transceiver when you take your two day avalanche skills training level one class (AST1).  An AST1 is the bare minimum of training recommended for backcountry recreation in the mountains.  
  2. Did you turn it on?  You’d be surprised by how many forget to turn on their transceivers on at the beginning of a ride.  Here is a great video on doing a trailhead transceiver check.  It demonstrates a quick exercise that everyone in your group can do to make sure everyone is turned on, transmitting and ready to roll.
  3. Has it sustained an impact?  Perhaps while practicing your scorpion or superman on your last ride you may have landed on your transceiver.  Any nice solid whack to your transceiver could damage internal components of your transceiver rendering it ineffective. Doing you trailhead transceiver check every ride will help catch this.
  4. Do you have any electronics or magnets that could be interfering with your signal?  A minimum of 20 cm distance from any electronics is recommended to prevent electronic noise from compromising your transceivers effectiveness. 
  5. Are you using the wrong batteries?  Many are unaware that lithium batteries negatively affect transceivers and create interference. To read more about why you should not use lithium batteries and only alkaline batteries please read more.  
  6. Did you leave the batteries in it over the summer months resulting in corrosion?  After each season be sure to take your batteries out of your transceiver before you put your gear away for the season. 

Read more about Transceivers here:  Essential Gear   


A tether is a cord between the snowmobile and its rider that acts as an engine kill switch in the event that the rider and machine should become separated.  It is an essential piece of safety gear and must be used at all times.  Skidoo is the only manufacturer that provides a tether from factory and for all other snowmobile manufacturers the tether must be purchased as an aftermarket option. 

  1. Is your tether attached to your person?  To have a tether installed and not have it attached will not shut your snowmobile off.  You should always attach your tether before you start your snowmobile.  Many riding gear companies have a D-ring on the bottom of your coat to attach your tether.  Why use a Tether 
  2. Was your tether professionally installed?  As was mentioned previously only one manufacturer offers a tether from factory.  So if you ride one of the other brands please order a tether and book an appointment to have it installed at your local snowmobile dealer.  


Your outerwear for backcountry riding isn’t simply a fashion statement, it is safety gear that could save your life should you spend the night in frigid temperatures.  It must include a waterproof and breathable outer shell paired with moisture wicking base and mid layers. 

  1. Is cotton one of your layers?  The saying is “cotton kills” and for good reason. Cotton absorbs moisture like a sponge and will hold it to your skin keeping you wet and cold which can cause hypothermia.  Only utilize breathable wicking fabrics for your internal layers including socks.  Read more here:  Dressed for Success
  2. Are your boots or gloves too tight?  Restricted circulation will make for cold hands or feet and could set you up for frostbite.  Make sure your boots and gloves fit well but leave enough room to facilitate circulation or perhaps accommodate a thicker set of socks on very cold days. 
  3. Are you dressed for the conditions?  Remember temperatures can fluctuate during the day as can your level of activity.  Ensure you dress in layers and have a dry place to store unused layers throughout the day. Over dressing results in excess perspiration and can cause your gear to get wet which is never a good scenario for backcountry survival. 

Helmets and Goggles  

There are several factors to consider when it comes to helmets and goggles. 

  1. Do you have the right lens for winter riding?  Summer moto goggles are normally a single lens with foam that isn’t nearly as thick as winter goggles.  Winter goggles are a double lens and usually have an anti-fog treatment. They also come in many different lens colours with each offering a different advantage.  Colours like amber, rose and blue tend to enhance terrain features on flat light days, while mirror lens options give you a bit of respite from the sun and glare off of the snow. Read more on choosing your goggle and lens 
  2. Do your goggles fit your face and your helmet?  That is a huge part of goggle performance.  You’ll want to take your helmet with you when picking out new goggles to be certain that they fit both on your face without allowing for gaping holes, and they fit inside of your helmet comfortably. 
  3. Does your helmet fit comfortably?  A helmet that is too tight will cause headaches.  A helmet that is too big will create strain on muscles being utilized to prop the helmet back into position plus compromise your vision.  
  4. Is it time to retire your helmet?  Should there be any significant impact on a helmet, it should be thrown into the garbage immediately to ensure it will never be in circulation again.  Helmets, over time, do deteriorate.  Glues and resins will become compromised and foam will compact losing the ability to protect.  Be sure to replace your helmet every three to five years or immediately if it has sustained impact.  More:  When to upgrade your snowmobile helmet
  5. Are you considering buying used gear?  We do not recommend buying used helmets.  You cannot tell just by looking at a helmet if it has taken a hit or is compromised.  You are better to buy a new helmet and look to other areas of your gear to save money by buying used. 

Stay tuned for part two of the human factor of safety gear failures.  Owning the gear is simply not enough.  You must be able to use the gear proficiently to be safe in the backcountry.