Ten Things Every Backcountry Skier Should Know: How to jump start a car — and more

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | September 17, 2007      

This is more an “important ten” than a “top ten” list, and somewhat cooked up for people new to backcountry skiing. Please leave a comment with your own ideas.

10. Jump start a car without blinding yourself.

9. First-aid a serious laceration.

8. Rip skins in the wind without giving your scalp a bikini wax.

7. Fix a broken ski pole with duct tape and pocket knife.

6. Do a jump turn on the steeps in the face of danger.

5. Start a fire in the snow — while you’re shivering.

4. Read a topo map quickly.

3. Quickly dig a person out of an avalanche.

2. Keep your feet warm.

1. Practice a humble mindset so caution rules the day.

Today, number 10: Believe it or not, starting a car with jumper cables takes some skill to do safely. And digging out the jumper cables is not exactly uncommon for backcountry skiers at remote trailheads. Sure, you can just match up the positive and negative terminals and hope for the best. But doing everything in the correct sequence, with attention to safety, will prevent damage to the vehicles and yourself (as in, who wants battery acid sprayed in their eyes?). I’ll admit I learned this the hard way, after melting a few cable clamps together. Luckily I’ve still got my eyesight.

I found a website with a textbook on the subject. Good to read, but you’ll probably have forgotten half the stuff by the time this coming season you’re actually at a trailhead with a jumper clamp in each hand, snow blowing in your face, and a shivering crew of backcountry newbies looking to you as their savior. The main things to remember are wear eye protection, avoid sparking, and for-sure identify the positive and negative battery terminals so you don’t hook the batteries up wrong.

Car batteries can produce flammable gas and in rare cases may explode or at least violently spurt acid. Thus, while you’re messing around with batteries wear eye protection. Ski goggles are perfect, or sunglasses if you prefer. While making sure the unused jumper clamps are not touching each other, clamp the bad battery terminals first. Then, while holding the two remaining jumper clamps in each hand hook the remaining positive clamp to the good battery. Last, if possible hook the remaining negative clamp to a metal chassis part or some clean metal on the engine block. When you do this you’ll get a spark, that’s why you don’t hook it to the battery since that little sizzle could ignite gas near the battery. That said, if you can’t find a good place for the neg clamp you’ll have to use the battery post. If so, keep your face away from the battery and remember that eye protection!

Gear Tips: I’ve found two things we really like for car battery emergencies. If you drive a larger vehicle, you might have room to carry a spare battery you can use for jump starting, running lights in camp and even powering a laptop computer. I got one at Wal-Mart and blogged it a while ago. The other thing I like, for smaller vehicles, are the compact jumper cables you can find if you look in the auto accessories departments of discount stores. These skinny things would probably melt if you used them to start a big-block truck engine, but they’re great for your Subaru or compact truck. Just look for jumper cables that are in a pouch about the size of your hand. Minimalist!

Oh, one other field tip. If you own a diesel pickup with two batteries, you may need two batteries to jump start it. That’s how our 2009 Silverado Duramax behaves. What can happen is you find your truck batteries are dead and you’ve only got one friend to run jumper cables from. Truck won’t start. Solution is to have a portable power pack stowed in your truck. Cheap insurance and you can use the power pack to jump start others without fooling around under your hood. Just remember to charge the portable pack a few times each year.

Jumper cables are easy to find, here is one shopping suggestion. Actually a good gift for someone just starting out with their first car.

Portable batteries that can jump start a car with and use for emergency power are fairly common. Here is one that you can get online.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


16 Responses to “Ten Things Every Backcountry Skier Should Know: How to jump start a car — and more”

  1. carl September 17th, 2007 11:30 am

    What about your buddy in the other car…..is it best to have their car running and it is necessary for them to revvvvvv the engine as the charge is taking place?

  2. Sky September 17th, 2007 10:32 am

    Also good:
    Drive a manual and know how to pop the clutch.

  3. Justin September 17th, 2007 10:37 am

    What do you think about the Battery Brain (I think it used to be called a Battey Buddy)?

  4. RobinB September 17th, 2007 11:06 am

    I’ve always connected like this:

    +ve dead
    +ve good
    -ve good
    -ve to dead vehicles ground, engine block or elsewhere…

    This means that there is less risk of sparking between clamps as you walk from one car to the other.

    Hooking batterys up – to + will produce a very violent reaction… ask me how I know!

  5. Matt September 17th, 2007 1:29 pm

    I suggest getting a high quality heavy guage set of cables, with a lot of cable between clamps, do not worry about saving space, worry about how you are going to reach the other side of the dead car without driving your truck through the ditch. Spend $100 you will not regret it when you need them.

  6. Lou September 17th, 2007 2:04 pm

    Matt, I’d agree that big long cables are good if you’re driving a car they’ll pack in. But the minis are nice if you’re driving something small.

    Carl, yeah, to the best of my knowledge it’s best to have the doner car running and rev it a little after you hook up, then wait about 30 seconds after the hookup for the running car to charge the dead battery a bit. Also, years ago I got in the habit of immediately removing the cables after the dead car starts, to prevent charging system damage. Don’t know if that’s very important any more, but probably a good habit.

  7. Kimmers September 17th, 2007 2:31 pm

    Somewhere along the way the female race got a bad rap when it comes to cars and their innner workings, and I don’t think I help out the cause at all, as i would walk miles in a blizzard before changing the tire on my car. But when it comes to charging a dead battery, I have found the best device ever. It’s jumper cables with a breaker in the middle. I don’t really know how it works, I just know that you don’t have to worry about what order you connect everything as long as + to + and – to – and then you connect the middle breaker. Tada. Great present for the ladies, Gentlemen.
    I also like the reading a Topo quickly. Much easier to practice in the sunshine, without the snow and wind ripping!

  8. Barry September 17th, 2007 8:30 pm

    Go with the spare battery box. They are becoming smaller and are incredibly easy to use. I like being able to pick them up and move them to the vehicle needing the jump. No hassle with trying to get close to the dead car. My experience is that the vast majority of the time I will be jumping someone else. So portable is good. Some can even be plugged into a cigarette lighter for those who have trouble with anything under the hood.
    My only comments on the spare battery box are that slightly longer cables would be nice, and if you’ve forgotten to charge to the box you might be out of luck and without jumper cables.

  9. Charlie September 17th, 2007 11:30 pm

    You’ll regret spending $100 on cables the first time your car gets stolen and returned, sans belongings….

    Lou’s clamp-clamp, clamp good +, clamp ground is electrically equivalent to clamp bad +, clamp good +, clamp bad ground, clamp good ground, just more efficient. I’ll stick with the latter; it has worked for me for years.

  10. Lou September 18th, 2007 6:45 am

    Yeah, whatever way of connection gets it right! And indeed, the battery boxes really are nice. They make fairly small ones for small cars…

    Those goof-proof jumper cables are excellent, here is a link to some (this is not an etailer I’m familiar with):

  11. steve seckinger September 18th, 2007 7:17 pm

    The jumper/battery system Lou mentioned before works — I used it to re-power my Chevy Avalanche after I drained the battery with a bad install of a backup camera. Also noticed the local towing company using the same device instead of jumper cables.

  12. T3 September 19th, 2007 7:40 am

    I use a JumpBox. Saves the possibility of screwing up the “good” battery with mistaken connections etc….

  13. Randy_rando September 19th, 2007 10:24 am


    RE: pole fix. Good article. For those of us that have old ski poles laying around or grab one out of the dumpster….

    Cut a piece off, cut it lengthwise, bring two hose clamps.

    This setup is always in my repair bag for week long sierra trips. If you have two, one goes on in the inside and the other is pried open and goes on the outside. Then clamp.

  14. Mark Dumont October 16th, 2007 2:36 pm

    Lou – check RobinB’s post who’s got it right and it repeats what the (good) article you posted said. You might want to adjust your blog in case someone stops reading right there, disclaimers aside! But good work on explaining why you don’t want to spark near the battery.

  15. Rob November 1st, 2012 9:59 am

    Clean battery terminals on both vehicles are also key. Got caught with that this spring.

  16. Lou Dawson November 1st, 2012 10:08 am

    Good point Rob. It amazes me how that corrosion insulates and can totally shut down a battery connection.

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