Alpine Threadworks Ski Rescue Tarp — Review

Post by blogger | December 15, 2015      

Michael Arnold

The unexpected is waiting to happen. Each day we wake up to something new that shapes our stoke — or our fear. Being overly prepared isn’t the most efficient way to live in today’s society, but to one degree or another it is what we require to survive. Life in the mountains is not much different.

Alpine Threadworks Rescue Tarp with victim.

Alpine Threadworks Rescue Tarp with victim.

For backcountry ski touring, we carry the typical essentials for navigation, first aid, LNT, etc. Beacon, shovel, probe have been the basics for decades. Now enthusiasts add several items for safety. A backcountry kit can include an avalanche airbag pack, Avalung, satellite phone, and countless electronic items to bring back content for sharing information.

But what about shelter in the event of an accident? When that avalanche fractures across the slope and you get caught, luck and a balloon pack can help. You might survive but still break a leg or worse. What then?

Alpine Threadworks Rescue Tarp/Shelter can give you a higher chance of making it out of a bad situation.

The kit: Alpine Threadworks Ski Rescue Tarp.

The kit: Alpine Threadworks Ski Rescue Tarp.


  • Size 2.25m by 2.75m tarp
  • Stated weight 650 grams
  • 8 loops on outside edge of tarp for making shelter
  • Tarp velcros together to form an envelope for 4-5 people to sit under
  • Tarp velcros together to form a bivi-sack
  • A webbing ‘cage’ is sewn to the tarp. The cage has four tie-in points per side. Three handles per side for lifting victim into the machine, lodge, over obstacles etc. Three haul lines run underneath victim: you can drag victim from the front or rear.
  • This webbing cage is structural unto itself; it does not rely on webbing sewn to fabric for strength.
  • Includes stuff sac and 5 tie downs
  • After using it in the field, here’s my takeaway:

  • The tarp is made of lightweight material. Be very careful around ski edges, bindings, fires etc. For added protection, leave skins on skis when working around sled or using skis in sled.
  • To add rigidity to the sled, put the victim’s skis (with skins) inside the tarp. Lay pack, extra clothes and padding on top for comfort.
  • Use victim's pack and extra gear to pad sled bottom for comfort. Recommendation for remote travel: bring a small ThermoRest. It adds a lot of comfort in a bivvy or long evacuation.

    Use victim’s pack and extra gear to pad sled bottom for comfort. Recommendation for remote travel: bring a small ThermoRest. It adds a lot of comfort in a bivvy or long evacuation.

  • When using the tarp for shelter: Dig hole, 4x6ft (depending on group size), lay skis horizontally over hole, stake out corners with poles, lightly add snow to anchor it down, crawl inside, sit on packs, and wait out the storm.
  • Lowering victim in the sled.  Carry a 10m cord at 6mm in diameter for towing and hauling. Professionals would carry more hardware (carabiners, slings, etc.).

    Lowering victim in the sled. Carry a 10m cord at 6mm in diameter for towing and hauling. Professionals would carry more hardware (carabiners, slings, etc.).

    Available from Alpine Threadworks. Price $275.00, Canadian.

    (WildSnow guest blogger Mike Arnold is an IFMGA mountain guide who is co-founder of Vetta Mountain Guides. When he’s not sleeping in his Sprinter van or some hut above Chamonix, he lives in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado.)


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    11 Responses to “Alpine Threadworks Ski Rescue Tarp — Review”

    1. Stuart Clark December 15th, 2015 8:15 pm

      Is that price for real? $275!! …come on…

    2. Scott December 15th, 2015 8:43 pm

      I have become a Bothy Bag convert. I pack a 2 person bag that compresses down to a grapefruit size. I use it solo ski touring all the time as a quick shelter out of the wind, propped up with ski poles, to refuel/hydrate, warm up, change a top layer, or deal with a boot buckle without gloves. It is a simple coated nylon material (with plastic windows!), cost only about $50 and could probably be rigged for a rescue/evac.

    3. Jim P. December 15th, 2015 9:27 pm

      My version is a Go-Lite sil-nylon poncho. Pretty much does 90% of the piece of kit described, and you can always use it as a poncho. Since my day pack always includes a cordelette and a shoulder length prussic, plus a locking and a non-locking biner, I can make a sled out of the victim’s skis (or mine) and a shovel, and wrap him/her up burrito style. If others in the group have their own gear, we can make a webbing cage too. A good reason to ski in groups of 3.

    4. Don Gorsegner December 15th, 2015 9:37 pm

      Having spent time with the local mountain rescue team I learned one main thing. Whatever you choose to carry for an emergency bivy, yes they do happen, you need to practice with it. Take your set up out in the backyard and try it out for the night. It is amazing what sounds good in the store doesn’t work well in the real world. I prefer an old army poncho and poncho liner, individually and combined they are very useful multi use items

    5. Phil December 15th, 2015 10:46 pm

      You get what you pay for (in this case). There is a reason that guides don’t generally use a piece of light nylon for a rescue sled. The alpine threadworks one is one of the few really good ones. Light materials but very tough where it is needed. Tow straps sewn in… Nice rigging options w skis. Plus the bonus options to be a shelter.

      Sure, you can potentially use a poncho or groundsheet or tent fly or… if need be (a good idea to think about options like that). But if you need to tow someone in rough (typical) terrain, it may not last long… It probably depends on where you ski.

      Why not give it a try. On a mediocre ski day, use some old thing you have and try to rig it and tow someone. You may start looking into the AT or BrooksRange or a few other light sled designs…. I did.

    6. Craig December 16th, 2015 5:54 am

      I thought I’d chime in because I own one of these tarps.

      I first want to point out that this tarp is a rescue sled first, and a bothy/bivy shelter second. It works well as both, but definitely does not skimp on the sled part. The fabric is beefy, the webbing strong, and the construction quality is very good. I have both this tarp and a backpack made by Neil and they are both superb.

      What this sled is really designed for, is to relocate someone from a dangerous location & to package the patient for trans-loading into something mechanized (heli, cat, snowmobile). Say for example that your friend is skiing an exposed slope, falls and twists their leg, breaking it. They can’t move from their current location. You’ve called for a rescue, but the heli is at least two hours away and you don’t feel like hanging out on that slope. You want to move to a safe location where the heli can land and easily pick up your buddy. You need a sled. The bad thing is that very few people packs sleds on a regular basis. Trying to improvise a sled from some webbing in your pack, a prusik cord, and your shoe lace looks good on the pages of Field and Stream Magazine, but is really tough to pull off in a stressful situation, on the side of a mountain in a storm.

      This tarp is extremely lightweight when compared to other sleds and also stands up to abuse, as proven by some testing by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (link to this testing is on Neil’s website).

      Everybody says that they can use a regular tarp as a rescue sled. It all comes down to durability; this really depends on how far you need to move your patient, and what the surface conditions are. How you connect your towing system will also have a large impact. I am generally a person who does not carry extra weight at all. However, I don’t mind having this specific item weighing extra, because I know that it can stand up in a nasty scenario.

    7. Michael December 16th, 2015 8:30 am

      Couple of things to think about with these rigs. The flatter/deeper-softer the snow the more you have to lift the front of the rig to move it (think getting backseat in the deep powder to get you tips to plane) + the more people/muscle you will need with the rescue. Also in the powder you will be pushing snow into the sled as you move it, so a bivy sack or something to keep snow off you patient is really nice.

    8. Scott in Canada December 17th, 2015 10:04 am


      While it is work to drag one around remember the skier will be in front of the sled so the snow will be at least somewhat packed down. The tarp covers the victim and seals up well so they should not be getting directly covered by snow.

    9. Aaron December 17th, 2015 12:11 pm

      A few years ago I made a sled component to augment by sil tarp.

      It is essentially a stand-alone middle section like the alpine threadworks. mid weight nylon cordura fabric, shaped roughly like a mummy bag, structural webbing cage leading to side handles. full perimeter webbing with anchor points for front towing, rear braking/lowering, lighter attachment tabs around the edge for lacing the burrito shut, webbing slots for skis inside. I lay my siltarp inside, wrap the patient, than wrap the outer toritilla round and lace up with ~3mm cord, then use my #2x 6mm x 7m glacier cordlettes as front and rear ropes. Very simple and cheap to make and leaves my siltarp as a standalone tarp for year round use and my glacier cordlettes serve double duty.

      Also adds relatively little mass or weight to the tarp and cords, but adds considerable value to quick rigging and movement efficacy over just tarp or cobbling together skis/shovel/pole. If it survives one proper rescue I’m happy.

      I may look at adding velcro or other feature to allow closing the siltarp to function more like a bothy. Can’t afford more gear at this point!

    10. Dave December 17th, 2015 7:32 pm

      Learned about Bothies on WS a few months ago. Now I have one and have tested it in rainy, windy and snowing weather on a few recent ski trips. I can testify that inside ambient temps rise quite nicely for a quick dry, warm lunch. Before reading this article, I had contemplated another test, by digging a similar sized hole and covering it w the bothy creating a quazi 3 sided snow cave. GTK others recommend it as well.

    11. Michael December 17th, 2015 11:03 pm

      I’ve done some long extractions with a sked in deep powder and can tell you from experience that your going to need a way to lift the front up to get anywhere (you have bullhorns on a tobaggan to accomplish this) and a way to seal your patient up.

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