K2 Rescue Shovel – Flagship of the Backside Tool Set

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | September 9, 2011      

If any conclusion has come for decades of research about snow avalanche survival, it’s that if you’re buried you’d better get dug out fast. Hence, carrying a snow shovel while backcountry skiing has become axiomatic. But what tool?

K2 Rescue Shovel +

K2 Rescue Shovel is a well designed avalanche rescue tool. Which brings up lots of interesting issues...

Thing is, any sort of ISO or other standard has never been promulgated for the avalanche rescue shovels used for backcountry skiing, snowmobiling, and other snow sports. As a result, debate has ebbed and flowed as to the what size, strength and configuration makes the best shovel. On the one hand, we have the strength and beef advocates who pan many available shovels, and design brutal tests that only a few shovels can pass. Conversely, efficiency fans say so long as the shovel will last through one rescue and move lots of snow, “make it light so I’ll carry it!”

One such extreme test was carried out a few years ago by the Austrian Alpine Club. Known as the Genswein test, criteria included controversial standards such as providing a shovel top edge strong enough to be aggressively stomped into the snow by a ski boot. Valid criticism came up, such as the fact that when digging for a live victim using a shovel by driving it in with your foot is probably not a desirable nor necessary technique. Indeed, our take is that while the Genswein was a noble effort, it over reached and did a disservice to all of us as we feel shovel testing should be oriented much more towards digging speed and ergonomics of fresh slab avalanche debris, rather than imaginary abuse. (Incidentally, the urban myth of avalanche debris immediately setting up like cement is exactly that. I’ve observed and tested in the field. Sure, avalanche deposition does eventually solidify, sometime to almost the consistency of ice, but fresh debris other than those from a wet slab avalanche usually remain fairly easy (but time consuming) to dig for the “life window” time you have to dig out a live victim. More, it could be argued that in the case of deep burial in timbered terrain, a wood saw to remove trees and branches might be of significantly more importance than how strong your shovel is.)

At any rate, due to the lack of any other meaningful standard or organized testing, making a shovel that holds up to the Genswein criteria has become a defacto standard for some shovel makers who market for backcountry skiing. Our take: If a shovel can be made that strong and not too heavy, that’s probably fine, though we wonder if we’ll be carrying around five or six extra ounces of unnecessary weight no thanks to Genswein and associates.

Enter the K2 Rescue Shovel. Upfront, let me say that K2 appears to have achieved a design that would hold up to the Genswein abuse, while still being reasonable in size, weight, and pack-ability. At 25.7 ounces (without internally stored rescue sled kit) the Rescue could perhaps be a few ounces lighter, but hail those of you who feel most shovels are too weak — here is one you’ll quit whining about. More, it’s got some excellent features.

Beyond knowing it’ll last virtually forever in normal backcountry use, we find numerous “likes” regarding this tool. First, it packs easy by virtue of minimal blade curvature (and also works nicely for shovel shear tests and so forth). Avalanche snow shovels don’t need radically curved blades, so good job K2 on that one. Next, The “+” model has a sweet little hardware kit stored in the shaft that helps you build a rescue sled out of your skis. Optional configuration as a snow hoe and a nice long two-section shaft round out the positives. Aside from the weight, the only other con we came up with is that the grip, while good for right handers, is not ergonomic for left handers and is not reversible in orientation. Photos showing it all:

All the parts, sled kit is visible coming out of the lower shaft in photo.

All the parts, sled kit is visible coming out of the lower shaft in photo. One thing you notice with this shovel is how thick the shaft walls are. That combined with an ovalized shape not doubt makes it super strong.

Backcountry skiing rescue sled kit.

Sled parts kit is located in the handle, pulled out with red webbing tab.

Backcountry skiing rescue sled kit.

What you get for sled building is simple, just wingnuts and bolts that attached shovel shaft and blade to the skis. We'll review sled construction in the future.

K2 backcountry skiing shovel grip.

Grip ergonomics. Upper photo is normal right-handed grip, lower shows left handed grip.

K2 backcountry skiing shovel grip

Another way you can grip left handed. Works, but not as ergonomic as right handed.

Avalanche rescue snow hoe, K2 Rescue shovel for backcountry skiers.

Latest studies in how to quickly dig out an avalanche victim conclude that snow must be move laterally, as efficiently as possible. Dragging the snow with a hoe-like shovel configuration can be the ticket. K2 Rescue shovel converts to hoe, but without a grip the shaft probably needs some friction material rather than slick powder coating. Owner added gription tape would suffice.

K2 shovel shape.

Minimal curve to the shovel blade is excellent. Packs easy and works well for snow stability tests.

Conclusion, the K2 Rescue Shovel is a top choice for guides and professionals who need long-term durability for constant use. Other users will do fine with this shovel as well, but could perhaps save a few ounces weight by using a slightly less durable yet adequate shovel. The shaft-stored rescue sled parts are a nice touch. In all, good to see constant effort in making better backcountry skiing shovels, WildSnow.com thumbs up.

Estimated retail availability, October 2011.



23 Responses to “K2 Rescue Shovel – Flagship of the Backside Tool Set”

  1. Maciej September 9th, 2011 9:53 am

    While using another person’s shovel in a rescue shouldn’t happen, it is not unreasonable to presume that such a situation (due to a broken shovel, lost pack, etc.) could occur. As a left-handed backcountry skier, my ability to use this shovel would be compromised by the design of the shovel. For this reason, I feel that this product is TOTALLY unacceptable for backcountry use.

    This shovel offers a lot of nice features, but this lack of universal usability make it a non-starter. It’s a shame a company with an R&D budget as large as K2 (which makes skis I really like) would neglect such a basic design parameter.

  2. Lou September 9th, 2011 10:02 am

    All they have to do is lengthen that side of the grip a bit and it’ll work fine. I’d expect to see that. Meanwhile, the shovel does work left handed, just not as good a grip as right hand. I hope I didn’t imply that’s it doesn’t work, as that was not my intent, my intent only to point out the difference in grip. I just added another photo showing optional left handed grip. Still not ideal, but I believe it would work.

  3. Jonathan Shefftz September 9th, 2011 10:12 am

    So is the offset-T handle non-reversible because of the single interlocking pin as opposed to the more typical bilateral pin setup? I think all the other offset-T handles on the market are reversible, although I’m not positive about that.

  4. Lou September 9th, 2011 10:14 am

    Because of the ovalized shaft is not symmetrical, it’s sort of a triangle oval in cross section, thus, anything related to the shaft can’t be easily flipped. At first, when I looked at this, I thought I could just grind out the rivet holding the handle, add a pop button, and have a reversible handle. But no.

    I think there are a couple of easy ways around this. As mentioned, for starters they could just make the shorter side of the grip a bit longer. But best would be some kind of configuration shape to the handle and shaft that made it easy to detach and flip.

  5. Steve September 9th, 2011 10:16 am


    Nice job pointing out that fresh avalanche debris is often not hard and set up like we’ve been teaching for 30 years! This is an important and modern point to realize in companion rescue.

    Another note on the Euro test: the digging area was churned, stomped, and then left to re-set overnight for the tests on the following day. It was a good effort if the concern is avalanche recovery after a day or two (body recovery). A good spade from Home Depot would be my choice in those types of conditions.

  6. steveG September 9th, 2011 10:35 am

    As a life time lefty and snow shoveler / dirt digger, I’ve learned to adapt or deal with this right handed world. Scissors are a real pain but doable. I’ll probably buy one of these as I really think I could dig a lot faster with the hoe feature.

  7. Lou September 9th, 2011 11:17 am

    In a real, deep rescue, to me the hoe feature is essential. I’ll be trying to make sure it’s available in most of my shovel quiver.

  8. Marc September 9th, 2011 1:26 pm

    Is that a rappel device in the grip!??

  9. Jean-Pierre September 9th, 2011 6:02 pm

    After the first time I practice the V-Shaped snow conveyor explained in Manuel Genswein paper with a T handle, I rapidly understand that you need a D handle to be efficient. With the T model, even in soft snow, the blade tends to go sideways because you can’t apply as much force with the wrist as with a D model.

    Still curious to see a field test with the hoe Lou.

  10. Lou September 9th, 2011 6:39 pm

    It’s all going to happen this winter. Looking forward to it!

  11. Jean-Pierre September 9th, 2011 7:09 pm
  12. Jay September 9th, 2011 10:49 pm

    The Hoe conversion also helps with snowcave/quinze construction.

  13. Jeff W. September 9th, 2011 11:20 pm

    does the side of the handle double as a belay plate?

  14. Lou September 10th, 2011 8:43 am

    Jeff, one does wonder…

  15. Mark W September 11th, 2011 9:40 pm

    Nice offering from K2. Perhaps all this mention of the asymmetrical handle grip might bring about a left or right handed grip–perhaps even a nice d-grip.

  16. Dylan September 12th, 2011 9:20 pm

    Is it just me or does this shovel look a lot like Ortovox’s professional alu II (http://www.ortovox.com/shovel/professional-alu-ii-1). K2’s probes also look like they could be using a similar deploy to ortovox probes.

    Not to say it isn’t bomber. I just think ortovox may have been the originator on this one. I believe the rescue sled would be their addition to it. Extra points in my books.

  17. Nick September 13th, 2011 3:47 pm

    I like how the the blade doesn’t have a protruding slot for the handle like many shovels. Nice and square (which would I guess would be good for your foot to stomp on)

  18. Jay September 13th, 2011 4:06 pm

    The hoe photo makes me wonder about my Camp Al Ice-ax as a handle for the shovel blade.

  19. See September 14th, 2011 9:45 am

    Greetings all.

    I have wondered for a while about what is the optimal size for a shovel.

    A small shovel can be made stronger without being prohibitively heavy. The obvious downside is volume of snow moved per scoop. So I guess the question has to do with “gearing.” Is shoveling faster with a small shovel more or less efficient than using a large shovel which requires more work per scoop?

    Obvious variables are consistency of snow and strength of shoveler, but I know of some very strong guys who seem to prefer small, sturdy shovels.

  20. Lou September 14th, 2011 10:32 am

    See, I’ve experimented for years with the shovel size issue, have probably used more than a hundred shovels by now… my take is that within a certain range size is not that big an issue, due to the “gearing” effect you mention. But, I believe larger-stronger people should trend to carrying slightly larger shovels. The best size, first, fits in a backpack. Next, to avoid being too small a good size range is around 110 square inches (10×11). In my view, the shovel need not be as strong as the Genswein test THEORIZED, but it definitely needs to be at a certain level of strength, minimum would be for one rescue (with a safety margin). Expedition shovels or those used for multi-purpose need to be stronger, to hold up to constant use. In the end, I think the market is there for quite a variety of backcountry skiing shovels, but we need some standards either voluntary or otherwise.

  21. Mike Hattrup K2 September 14th, 2011 5:44 pm

    Lou, on my way back from testing skis in Chile and just saw this so wanted to chime in. Agree that this design is slightly more ergonomic when used right handed; however we felt that the hoe feature is valuable enough that it outweighs this small ergonomic disadvantage. Further, in our eyes, regardless of which is your dominant hand, you should shovel with both hands. Depending on which way you’re discarding the snow, and how long you’re shoveling, you need to be able to switch back and forth. We found through use, especially with gloves on, that the most natural way to grip this shovel is with two fingers on either side of the shaft. That way there is minimal difference between left and right.

  22. Jonathan Shefftz September 23rd, 2011 3:46 pm

    Mine just arrived. Overall, a very well thought-out rescue set combo. I’m looking forward to demoing it at the courses I teach.
    Nit-picky details:
    Shovel weight is within an ounce of comparably sized lightweight shovels (both in terms of shaft length and blade size) I have from two other companies. Left-handed use seemed fine (with the caveat that I’m very right-hand dominant), since although asymmetrical, the handle is very long (basically like what Mike Hattrup wrote). Neck-less design packs away well (even in a relatively small Dynafit Manaslu pack shovel compartment), and blade achieves just the right compromise between curvature for moving snow vs flat for snowpit work.
    A few seconds of confusion at first from the top section having the larger diameter, i.e., the extension is from the bottom part sliding out, not the top part sliding out. So if you hold the shaft just a few inches below the handle, then try to extend by grabbing the handle with your other handle, nothing happens. So it’s the opposite of the way extension works with the three other extendable shovels I have from three other companies, although I don’t know if that’s universal. But we’re talking a few seconds maximum to figure it out.
    Rescue kit is very cleverly stowed, although I’m surprised that the clip it hangs on has a unilateral instead of bilateral push button connecting the upper & lower segments of the shaft. (The connection between the shaft and blade is also unilateral, but I suspect that’s dictated by the oval shaft.)
    Rescue setup is optimized for K2 and La Sportiva skis, along with whatever other models might have those same tip and tail holes. I also set it up with some Trab skis, using the tail slots (which seemed like would work well, as long as a cross brace of some sort was keeping tension in that direction), then trying both the tip holes and also the tip slots (which would work well as long as the toe rope were attached somewhere else). Otherwise, holes would have to be drilled in the ski, but that’s relatively easy to do (compared to the actual extrication…) using a hex-drive masonry bit in a screwdriver. Overall, the rescue setup is a nice compromise between the Brooks Range sled vs total improvising, and at 2.3 ounces the weight penalty is trivial.
    Probe weighs in at 10.5 oz (excluding storage sack) for ~300cm. Very low deflection with very large diameter. A mini handle doubles as a racking device with stowed to prevent any tangles. Deployment is very solid, although relies on a push button that pops out. But unlike the push button on some competitors, it struck me as unlikely to be inadvertently depressed since it’s popping out over the inner edge of an angled part of the probe, away from the outer diameter.
    Cable coating has a more plastic-type feel than the metal cable on probes from two other companies I examined just now. The plastic coating seems prone to getting nicked. But the metal cable is probably bomber anyway, so I doubt it’s ever going to break even if it does get nicked a bit.

  23. Chris Owen November 30th, 2015 1:56 pm

    I carried this shovel last season on the Wapta, weight was good. I’m left-handed and never actually noticed the ergonomic issue. But as stated previously most left-handers are ambidextrous (I’d give my right-arm to be ambidextrous – sorry). I only used the shovel for a training session the day prior to the traverse, looking for a buried pack with a beacon – but what worked really well was my partner with the same shovel in standard mode and myself with my K2 shovel in hoe mode.

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube

WildSnow Twitter Feed


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to WildSnow.com and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version