Backcountry Bomb Is… The Bomb

Post by blogger | November 9, 2009      

This has to be our gear pick of the week, if not the month. Let’s just hope the NSA’s high tech internet surveillance doesn’t cause men in black to come knocking on my door to check what kind of explosives I’m cooking up in my kitchen.

But if the jackbooted guys fly their black helicopter into our yard, I’m sure they’ll understand once I show them the cornice cutter.

Backcountry Bomb cornice cutter fits in your hand, 8.7 ounces (246 gr)  of explosive power.

Backcountry Bomb cornice cutter fits in your hand, 8.5 ounces of explosive power.

Dropping a cornice on the slope you intend to ski has got to be one of the best methods known for insuring you won’t trigger an avalanche yourself. In my experience, doing this in smaller couloirs can give you nearly 100% certainty that you won’t get involved in a large avalanche. (Though if the slab has a deep instability, you might have to drop a fairly big cornice for total certainty). What’s more, doing this WILL trigger the occasional avalanche. They’re fun to watch. Though mentioning this begs the point that cutting cornices requires a situation with no, zero, zilch possibility of any humans or property below you.

And therein lies the purpose of the bomb. You can cut a smaller cornice with a ski tail. A larger one can be cut with a rope. But rope sometimes has too much friction, and doesn’t seem to cut that well. The guys at Backcountry Bomb remedied that by providing 50 feet of 1/16 inch steel cable. This should slice through just about anything other than solid ice.

Backcountry Bomb cornice cutter deploys to 50 feet.

Backcountry Bomb cornice cutter deploys to 50 feet.

The only catch with cornice cutting is getting your cutter lassoed around the cornice. This can be somewhat tough if you want to knock off a fairly big chunk. My best tip on that is be sure the process of lassoing doesn’t make you tread out on a cornice that could break with you on it. And if you do need to get out there on the edge, also set up a rope belay. I’ve mentioned before that I carry a 30 meter hunk of 5 millimeter Spectra cord for just that sort of thing. Highly recommended if you’re planning on dropping cornice bombs.

WildSnow three thumbs up. Shop for it at the Bomb website, and if you see any black helicopters, get a ride for a few powder laps — after you drop some bombs.


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49 Responses to “Backcountry Bomb Is… The Bomb”

  1. Adam November 9th, 2009 10:18 am

    But when will there be actual explosives we can carry around?

  2. Chris November 9th, 2009 10:30 am

    How does it compare to the G3 rutschblock cord?

  3. Caleb November 9th, 2009 10:50 am

    This thing looks awesome Lou. Can’t wait to test it out. What’s the weight on it?

  4. Caleb November 9th, 2009 10:55 am

    I know their site says 250 grams, but did you take your own measurement?

  5. Mike November 9th, 2009 11:09 am

    The 5mm spectra cord is not designed for a static load. could be quite jarring on you in case of a fall due to cornice failure.

  6. Matt Kinney November 9th, 2009 11:17 am

    Looks easy to deploy, but a nightmare to coil and repack. Unlike rope, wire cable tend to kink/twist/explode open. If you had a separate, dedicated zippered pocket in you pack to keep it from everything else it mights pass the “fiddle factor” The Avalaung 42 come to mind in that has a outside pocket that I rarely use for anything. Looking forward to some field reviews in that regard.

    4″ overnight :happy:

  7. Halsted November 9th, 2009 11:22 am

    Interesting product Lou.

    The only thing to keep in mind besides other folks below you while cutting, is that you may end up with a larger avalanche then you anticipated. There are numerous cases where ski patrols got bigger results then they anticipated. The same could happen with folks dropping cornices.

    So, i hope folks will consider that when they start dropping cornices…

  8. Matt Kinney November 9th, 2009 11:43 am

    Good point HS….that certainly could be the case in any kind of control work from bombing highway corridors to simple ski cuts in the BC..

  9. Nick November 9th, 2009 12:06 pm

    Hey Halsted, you talking about OTR? 😉

  10. Tom Gos November 9th, 2009 12:23 pm

    That looks like a pretty good tool. I don’t have any expierience with cornice bombs, but I always read that it is a very good way to test a slope. The part of the process I always wonder about is cutting the slots. I suppose you could do that with a snow saw on a shovel handel or a ski tail, I wish their video showed them cutting the slots. I was also surprised in the video about how close it appears they were getting to the edge fo the cornice. All in all it seems like a good investment of thirty bucks, and would also be useful for performing rutsch block tests.

  11. Shoveler November 9th, 2009 12:57 pm

    Sweet! I’m ordering one today!

  12. Halsted November 9th, 2009 12:58 pm

    Yeah Nick, Over the Rainbow (OTR) at Loveland Ski Area does come to mind. It is amazing what 2 lbs of explosives can get rolling… :blink:

  13. Mark November 9th, 2009 1:54 pm

    Mike, did you not mean the Spectra 5mm cord is not designed for a dynamic load?

  14. Mark November 9th, 2009 1:56 pm

    There are a few routes I have avoided due to cornicing, but this kind of product might change things. Let’s cut cornices (carefully)!

  15. Lou November 9th, 2009 3:15 pm

    Matt, the cable winds up on the handles very easily. No problem whatsoever. It’s almost as fast as deploying it.

    The weight is off my digital postal scale. I’ll double check it. Now showing 8.7 ounces, I must have had the weight slightly off center and got the 2/10 of an ounce difference… so that’s 8.7 ounces, 246 grams.

  16. Dostie November 9th, 2009 3:59 pm

    Seems to be missing some teeth to help with cutting. Typical Rutschblok cord is the same stuff, PLUS “teeth” swaged onto the cable every 18″ or so. Without teeth, the cord could simply melt the snow from friction and cause it to become ice and the metal cord will then just slip back and forth without cutting much. Cutting cornices is a good idea. Having a tool that really does the job makes it that much easier.

    I’ll withhold final judgment, but this product appears to be a cheap knock off of the real McCoy. Hope you can perform a real test some day, comparing this to a Rutschblok cord. I’m betting $10 right now the Rutschblok cord (with “teeth”) works faster and more reliably. For comparison, I suggest the Brooks-Range cord, or G3’s or Ortovox’.

  17. Lou November 9th, 2009 4:09 pm

    This is just a first-look, which is something we do here to give everyone a heads up on new products. I’ve of course not tested it, but intend to get the testing done ASAP. I suspect that the cable behaves differently than rope in terms of how it cuts, but I agree that if the cornice was truly icy, it wouldn’t do much without teeth.

  18. Matt Kinney November 9th, 2009 4:20 pm

    Tks lou…I ordered one. Looks bomber. I ‘ll let ya know.

  19. ScottN November 9th, 2009 7:01 pm

    Hey Lou, just curious…what do you use for a belay device for 5mm cord? A carabiner brake or something?

  20. Matt S November 9th, 2009 7:05 pm


    I’d love additional feedback on it’s cutting ability (in various snow conditions) and ease of retraction (if you remember). I’m a big fan (in theory) of cutting cornices, but most of the products on the market seem too short to both cut a big enough cornice and allow you to stay back far enough for safety. I love the length of this option, but who cares if it cuts poorly and/or is impossible to pack away after you use it (though it would really increase safety if it was so difficult to repack that you never actually skied anything), right?


  21. john Gloor November 9th, 2009 8:13 pm

    I made a similar cornice cutter last year. It was 30 feet long and when I went to use it I was too afraid of the cornice to use it. The 30 foot length did not let me lasso a very big cornice when I had to stay ten feet back with my buddy. It was also diffucult to roll and unroll. My new one is 100 feet long and I like the idea of swaged cutting teeth. It could be a sport in it’s own right.

  22. Frank Konsella November 9th, 2009 10:41 pm

    It seems like it would be hard to lasso a cornice with something that light, the cable would just blow around in the lightest breeze while you tried to get it around the cornice. Maybe not, though.

  23. Randonnee November 10th, 2009 12:10 am

    I like to kick ’em. Quicker, more thrilling. Requires careful calculation of the break line.

  24. john Gloor November 10th, 2009 12:46 am

    Randonnee, I was aiming for Suburban-to small bus sized cornices, not refrigerator sized chunks. If you figure on a 10/20′ lead out to the edge, then the length of the cornice and another 10/20 back, one could easily use a 50 to 60 foot cable. This is just theory since I have not dropped on that big… intentionally.

  25. Randonnee November 10th, 2009 8:15 am

    Yep john, cool.

  26. Joe November 10th, 2009 12:38 pm

    G3 type rutsch block cord thoughts… the BackcountryBomb tool was made for primarily cutting cornices, not rutsch blocks. The B’Bomb could be used for rutsch blocks, but, without the pvc coating on it’s cable the B’Bomb could cause extra wear on your avalanche probes, depending on how it’s used. The rutsch block cords I’ve seen are either A) too short to cut large cornices and/or B) take too long to cut because of their larger surface area of the coated cable and teeth. I am not disputing that other cords and knotted ropes don’t work, but, I realized there could be something that cuts bigger, denser cornices faster, so I designed the BackcountryBomb. Although 3/64″ cable on another cord may be thinner than the Backcountry Bomb’s cable of 1/16″, the coating on the other cord makes it thicker than 3/64″ and therefore adds surface area. Teeth also add thickness and increase friction. Teeth will make a larger channel in the cornice as it cuts, and, a toothed cable requires more effort; it takes more time and energy to cut a larger channel. The Bomb was designed to be more efficient that a toothed cable or knotted rope. The thin cable and handles on the Backcountry Bomb allow for unmatched pulling power where as the others rely mostly on sawing power. The handles make a difference – try pulling on cable loops vs. a handle. It’s also easier to release a handle than to release a loop, good for safety. This tool is designed to cut large dense cornices as quickly as possible.

    Casting the BackcountryBomb’s 50 foot cord in the wind and lassoing fat cornices – I have roll casted it in 30 mile an hour winds, no problem. If you are into fly fishing, you’ll have an advantage here when it comes to fishing for cornices.

    The cornices we want to cut with the BackcountryBomb tool can’t be kicked off; they are too big to kick off, although kicking off smaller ones is a good way to go.

    Cutting slots for the cornice cut – this is a great topic that’s rarely addressed. Some cornices can be lassoed easily without cutting slots. However, when a cornice is way too wide, I like to cut slots with a self-arrest grip on a fully extended Life Link variant ski pole. This arrest grip is about an inch wide and digs really well when pulling on the pole. You can also use a ski with skin removed to stab or chop slots. This brings me to addressing the safety factor in approaching a cornice – one should rope up prior to probing the cornice and prior to cutting the slots. The first recommendation before cutting slots is to rope up.

    Users of the BackcountryBomb tool should practice unwinding and winding the tool once or twice in your yard at home before using it in the backcountry. It’s very easy and usually a single event learning process. Check out the Backcountry Bomb Winding Video

    As many of you have mentioned in the comments here, it is CRUCIAL that you are certain that you are not dropping cornices when people are below you or within 30 degrees of the fall line in any direction. These bombs can set off very large slides that have unpredictable slide paths – don’t take any chances when dropping cornices using any method – ropes, cords or kicks. “With super power, comes super responsibility.” – The Strobe.

    Lou, as for the black helicopters, I haven’t figured out a solution for that, they have been flying around my garage for years now. 30% of my internet traffic came from the US Military when I first started the B’Bomb website. Luckily, my tool is only used for making love, not war.

  27. Morgan November 10th, 2009 5:39 pm

    Looks good but only one use. You can to all sorts of things with a piece of Spectra.

  28. Lou November 10th, 2009 9:17 pm

    Morgan, I agree. But if the cutter really cuts like crazy, I can see it being worth carrying for certain missions.

  29. Zondo November 10th, 2009 9:18 pm

    Joe, the helicopters will go away…just think them will happen…..wearing one of these helps too:

  30. Lou November 10th, 2009 9:20 pm

    Nice comment post Joe, thanks!

  31. Zondo November 10th, 2009 9:26 pm

    I am Zondo. we have DEEP powder on our planet :alien:

  32. Lou November 10th, 2009 9:34 pm

    Klaatu barada nikto

  33. Morgan November 10th, 2009 9:39 pm

    After watching the videos I am pretty impressed. Maybe worth bringing when you know there is a big cornice to be dropped.

  34. Dostie November 10th, 2009 10:38 pm


    Good explanation. I may owe Lou $10.

  35. Randonnee November 11th, 2009 2:09 pm

    One can eliminate a line of good skiing if the cornice is large enough. One that broke between my feet the size of a Chevy van gouged out a deep channel down to a hard crust. Yep, agreed one needs to be aware whether anyone is below when starting avalanches! Likewise don’t get on the slab that I am on and double the load, please! As far as being on a rope, for me no problem kicking nearly anything if belayed. I have done a good bit of self-belay by holding small Cascade Mountain Hemlocks while kicking. Not advocating free kicking…it is an acquired skill and I have seen some or their gear go with it when a cornice breaks. Clearly, using the cable is safer, if one does not have explosives… A good safety tip here in the Cascades is use of vegetation to establish a break line location, but of course on alpine terrain without vegetation is not the same.

  36. Bruce November 11th, 2009 3:00 pm

    As with everything in the high alpine, a little common sense can go a long ways, so I thought I’d pass on comments from a guy who has made avy forecasting and control his everyday job.

    “The Backcountry bomb is interesting. I have made a few of these for cutting very large cornices for movie avalanche production. I used steel cable and had copper swages every 50 cm or so along the main mid portion of the cable. These really cut through the hard, mature cornice snow and we made some good footage of cornice failure for the (silly) Vertical Limit movie doing this. You just had to watch that you didn’t get the extra cable looping around a leg or arm while you were sawing,,, that would not be good as the cable often got dragged down with the cornice (we would anchor one end to the mountain so we didn’t lose it.”

    As the add says “it can be addictive” JB

  37. BCLicker November 11th, 2009 11:22 pm

    I purchased the Backcountry Bomb last year and had opportunity to drop a few truck-size cornices. I must admit I have become an addict. I think it is a great tool with minimal weight penalty. Under nearly all conditions works like a charm. Handles really do give you a lot of cutting power. Rolls up easy once you figure it out. Using your avy probe makes it easier to lasso around cornice. I think the instructional videos shows this technique. Helps to have a spotter at a safe location that can see below the cornice to help guide the cable around the face of the and control the depth of cut. A few times I cut too deep and snagged a branch or rock. If this happens and you have a hard time backing it out you can release the cable from the handle and pull it through.

    If you are using the tool properly (using handles) there should be no loose cable laying around that could get wrapped around a leg. You want to make damn sure there isn’t. When a big cornice drops there is an impressive amount of force and sometimes the cable gets pulled with it. I make sure I hold onto one end for retrieval.

  38. Juan Henriquez November 13th, 2009 11:05 pm

    Soy de Chile, y compre backcountry bomb hace como 10 meses.
    Increible ayuda, super liviano, compacto y con alto poder destructivo.
    El cable metalico le da un gran poder de corte, y los mangos plasticos son de gran ayuda al momentro de tirar. Tambien puedes cubrir una gran cornisa por la gran extension del cable.
    Excelente manera de probar el manto nivoso antes de esquiarla, solo preocupate de que no haya una persona abajo.
    Buen precio, liviano, compacto y gran ayuda, Muy buena idea.
    muy feliz con este producto.

  39. Virginie November 13th, 2009 11:18 pm

    Je suis vraiment satisfaite d’ utiliser le Back Country Bomb. Je me sens plus en confiance de skiier après avoir testé la pente en coupant la cornice. L’impact de la neige qui tombe sur la pente est plus important que le mien. Si cet impact ne provoque pas d’avalanche, je me sens vraiment plus en confiance d’y aller.

    C’est une idée géniale!!!


  40. juan November 13th, 2009 11:27 pm

    Estoy muy feliz de tener en mi mochila Backcountry bomb, es liviano, compacto y tiene mucho poder de destruccion .
    Su cable de gran extension permite cubrir una gran superficie y solo se necesita una persona, resistente y a un buen precio.

    uno se siente mas tranquilo esquiando una pendiente despues de haber usado este inventito.
    Lo he usado en nieve muy muy dura y demora un poco mas de tiempo, pero al final corta cualquier cosa, en hielo tambien fuciona, increible.
    Ahora forma parte de mi mochila invernal.

  41. Lou November 14th, 2009 7:32 am

    Thanks Virginie!

    I took the liberty of translating your comment (with the help of Babblefish)

    “I am really satisfied with the Back Country Bomb. I feel more in confidence in skiing after having tested the slope by cutting and dropping a cornice. The impact of snow which falls on the slope is much more significant than that of a skier. If this impact does not cause an avalanche, I have much more confidence in venturing onto the slope. It is a brilliant idea!!! V.”

  42. Dave November 20th, 2009 11:59 pm

    Bad idea (with a caveat).

    Only the most experienced backcountry travelers should use this tool. While great for patrollers (in a 100′ length), my comments are directed towards backcountry users. Dropping cornices really screw up the snowpack. Like some kind of party trick, it is done for thrills and giggles more often than for stability assessment.

    I’ve been using the same exact design since the nineties, as it sounds like other were, too. Fifty feet works well for small cornices. Larger cornices are pretty dicey. Since you have to stand so far back to be safe (depending on belay), it is easy to cut clean through a big cornice, only to have it stay put due to oblique cutting angle. Then what? You’ve only accomplished making it more hazardous. After playing it with it a lot, I have put it away.

    Pretest probability is important. If one thinks a given slope will slide, don’t drop a cornice. If it slides, you screwed up the slope. If it doesn’t slide, you probably shouldn’t ski it anyway. You should only drop cornices if you think it won’t slide, to test your hypothesis. Otherwise you create areas with thinner snowpacks that often repeat throughout the season.

    The caveat is a situation when there are limited descent options and it is necessary for safe travel (or perhaps when in a remote area unlikely to see other skiers).

    With respect, Dave

  43. Lou November 21st, 2009 8:55 am

    Dave, your point about creating repeater situations is a good one. I’d say this tool is like any other backcountry activity or technique, i.e., to be used responsibly. Knocking cornices down for amusement is the same thing as boulder trundling, and should be frowned upon as unethical or downright dangerous. On the other hand, knocking cornices down to test a slope is a super useful technique that everyone who skis corniced terrain should have in their bag of tricks. It’s saved my life several times.

  44. Mike Mullen April 20th, 2011 9:04 pm

    I agree that cutting cornices should not be done for entertainment or as a primary test of stability. Dropping cornices create avalanches that would not otherwise have occured due to the bonding that takes place over time. This will cause the snowpack to melt on the steeper slopes earlier than otherwise.

    And, if the slope is unstable, it won’t be that much fun to ski after it’s slid and the adjacent slopes are not safe either.

    And it makes a poor stability test. The energy of dropping a cornice may be just below that required to cut a slope loose. The very next skier who cuts turns below the dropped cornice could take it down. Or the third skier. In otherwords, the impact of dropping a cornice onto a slope (that doesn’t slide from the impact) could create a situation in which a ski cut or two could cause a slide. It depends upon the shape of the slope and how the snow was wind deposited, etc. The thinking that if a dropped cornice doesn’t trigger instability then it’s safe to make further ski cuts below the dropped cornice is flawed. Snow pit tests and observation are still a better way to assess stability.

  45. Matt Kinney April 20th, 2011 11:47 pm

    I use the Backcountry Bomb for fun quite a bit. It is fun wether it is necessary or not. It’s a hoot if done properly and safely with no one below. I had lots of fun with it just yesterday demonstrating how it is used to others. When I see the right cornice I get all excited and head right to it, rig it up to my avalanche probe and go “flyfishing” for cornices. To see the energy in the snowpack released is simply exciting to many. We do not have a shortage of cornices up here and there are vast areas to safely have fun time releasing cornice for entertainment. If you have not used the device you have no idea what you are missing from a practical standpoint.

    Cannot think of many better ways to test a slope than dropping 500-1000- one ton cornice on it.

  46. Lou April 21st, 2011 7:07 am

    I’ve dropped cornices for years as stability test. If the slope is small enough in relation to the cornice, the process is totally valid in my opinion. If done responsibly and with great care, the process is safe and legit. But I would offer that cornices kill a lot of mountaineers, and anything that causes folks to play around with cornices rather than give them WIDE birth is something to be very concerned about. Ropes and anchors should be involved, frequently, and spectators should be placed in 100% safe locations even if it means they can’t see some of the entertainment.

    Doing it with knowledge of what’s below (no people) is axiomatic, but I suppose should be mentioned.

    It also might be good to watch our semantics and thought process. The operative word is we are “testing” the snow, rather than deliberately starting avalanches. Even here in the facet scare and surface hoar nightmare snowpack of Colorado, I’d say 99% of the cornice cutting and dropping I’ve ever done did NOT trigger a slide that was any more than a small point release or sluff.

    In my opinion, when conditions lend themselves to a cornice drop, and it’s done carefully, it is sure a lot better than the sometimes dubious exercise of ski cutting.

  47. claude April 21st, 2011 8:59 am

    it was used long time ago by ski patrol bu so tough to put in place and tnot really useful in the real life…so f you want extra weight in your day pack you could find something cheaper.

  48. John Dough April 21st, 2011 9:17 am

    Sure, dropping cornices should not be the end all test to slope stability. But it is a good tool and should be just one in your arsenal. If avy danger is so high that you are only going to ski a line after you drop a cornice on it then you should reevaluate your approach to backcountry skiing, especially in CO.

    The statement that it should not be done for fun is preposterous! Dropping cornices, when done properly, can be a blast and causes no harm to anyone or anything. Using common sense and logic you can determine how to do this safely. First rule: MAKE ABSOLUTELY SURE THAT THERE IS NO ONE UNDER YOU. Secondly, make sure that all participants are on solid ground or on belay , with an extremely solid anchor, or both. You definitely find yourself being lured into getting closer to the edge to get a good angle on the cornice. Don’t do that.

    Cutting cornices is not the same as trundling, snow melts and is renewed the next year. There is no harm done to the environment unless you consider the reduced amount of erosion from the melt of the cornice in the summer I guess.

  49. Dave April 21st, 2011 9:37 am

    Surprised to see this thread born-again.

    Knocking down cornices IS fun. My ONLY concern with folks trundling cornices comes from creating unnecessary avalanches. In some places, this isn’t a problem. However, in crowded ranges those thinner areas tend to avalanche repeatedly. Almost always, most of the slopes that don’t slide during or immediately after a storm DON’T slide. Given a few more days, patient people might ski them safely. Insuring the safety of those cutting cornices and those below should be self-evident, as Lou says. However, in my crowded little range foks should also consider the long-term consequences of dropping cornices for fun.


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