Shaxe Gear Review from Tall Boy Couloir

The Shaxe helps me claw my way to the top of Tall Boy Couloir– Photo credit Phil Walker

By Ryan Ariano, Mountain Weekly News

Innovation comes in two shapes — one is inventing a new idea; the second is combining two pre-existing ideas into something better. George Washington Carver invented peanut butter, but it took those geniuses at Reese’s to combine it with chocolate and make it into the greatest candy on earth.  So when Backcountry Access, arguably the most-respected company in backcountry accessories, came out with this innovative avalanche shovel and ice axe combo, I jumped at the opportunity to do a Shaxe Gear Review.

SHAXE TICKS OFF TWO BACKCOUNTRY REQUISITES

An ice axe is a requisite part of my backcountry pack, especially once I start looking to tick off objectives on my hit list. A few weeks ago I rode Tall Boy Couloir on the north side Teewinot and Mount Owen in the Wyoming, a fun, rarely skied steep line beginning at a thin 11,400 foot col. I had lugged my ice axe up; my partner had been looking to save weight so left his at the car; if it wasn’t for my caution, he would have had to perch along a gnarly razor looking for a drop-in spot with little to hold him in but his whippet. The Shaxe Speed’s couple ounces of packing the pick attachment turns your ice axe into a “what if” addition (along with med kit, firestarter, extra food, etc…).

My standard shovel, the BCA B-52 avalanche shovel, weighs 2.1 pounds; my ice axe is 1.1 pounds. The Shaxe Speed is 1.8 pounds. Which saves me almost a pound and a half. Doesn’t sound like much. But every pound counts, especially when you’re pushing up the mountains, especially when even a 5% reduction in speed over 8 hours works out to close to a half an hour. On a recent tour up the East Hourglass Couloir in Grand Teton National Park, we were racing a wet storm blowing in hard from the west.

CONCLUSION: Weightwise it’s unbeatable.


A tale of two snow piles split with my son, the top reason the author takes mountain safety so seriously.

THE SHAXE SPEED VS. THE B-52

The Shaxe Speed is considerably smaller than the BCA B-52 avalanche shovel. While that makes it lighter and makes it fit the pack better, the simple fact is it takes a little more stabbing to move less snow. For my first test, I saw how big of a pile I could dig in about a minute with each shovel while my son was urging me on (the piles would become his little snowboard ramp). The Shaxe’s snow pile was considerably smaller that the B-52’s.

Test two: dug some snow caves in frozen plowed snowbanks, the best imitation of avy snow. The metal blade didn’t hesitate even for a second; it plowed through ice like one of those Antarctic dredgers and hardpack like it was chalk. And it only took a bit longer than the B-52.

CONCLUSION: If you’re looking for the best avy shovel, I’d suggest the B-52; if you’re looking for the best avy shovel to bring on long tours that will at some point require booting up and riding down steep, rocky, rowdy coulies and faces (which you shouldn’t really do if there is considerable avy risk anyway), then you definitely want to rock the Shaxe Speed.

The Shaxe Speed on the right replaces all that stuff on the left.

AXE ME THE BEST WAY TO THE TOP

The Shaxe ice axe digs in deep. You wouldn’t even know it’s a shovel handle with a removable pick. I took it up into my favorite backyard spot for self-arrest on some blind rollovers and the pick never shook or gave way. Also, while it’s a bit small as go-to mountaineering axe, it’s perfectly-sized for your split-mountaineering axe. Just make sure you have a good grip on it.

When I booted up one of the steepest couloirs I’ve climbed in a good while, it dug down deeply and firmly enough to make me feel comfortable nearly vertical on a snow pillar. I climbed a little too high and found myself in a spot where the rock wasn’t wide enough for me to put my board sideways to strap in. I then had to downclimb with board in hand and crampons in my pack (I’d already taken them off thinking I was going to strap in). The Shaxe ice axe was deep enough to keep the fear of ping-ponging down the chimney from setting in. And when I finally had to slide toeside down a pitch where a fall could quickly turn into a couple-hundred-foot tumble through rock, ice and hardpack, you best believe I had it in hand, digging it in once or twice to keep myself honest. When I got to the windboard ice section I’d noted from the boot up, I dug the Shaxe in to stop and set up for the rocky choke below. It performed perfectly on all occasions.

CONCLUSION: Rugged enough and small enough to be the perfect split-mountaineering axe.


The Shaxe Speed: Don’t get rowdy without it. – Photo credit Phil Walker

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Shaxe Speed is now my big day staple. Again, if I’m looking at some slack or sidecountry treks into questionable terrain with questionable snowpacks, I’m probably just bringing my B-52 and I’m not booting up any couloirs steep enough to require ice axes as that is how you die. But for all the many epics both in the Tetons and beyond, the lightness, versatility, and performance of this tool as both an axe AND a shovel makes it a must-have.

You looking to go big? I mean REALLY big? The Shaxe Speed needs to be in your pack.

Ryan Ariano originally published his BCA Shaxe Review on March 22, 2016, in the Mountain Weekly News.