Avalanche rescue shovels are a tool that backcountry skiers need to carry but really never want to deploy for their intended companion rescue purpose. Fortunately, shovels are also handy for digging out your car, truck or snowmobile when stuck, and several manufacturers have worked to combine snow saws and probe poles into shovel handles in an effort to simplify the gear we need to carry. BCA combines shovel and ice axe.
The BCA Shaxe merges two tools into one unit to save weight and space in your pack. It’s a great tool: sturdy, compact and full of utility. The Shaxe builds on the same proven shovel design and platform as BCA RS shovel by adding a stout, full-size ice axe head that can be swapped into the handle. The result is a solid, utilitarian shovel and a solid, functional ice axe.
Unlike shovels that incorporate a snow saw or probe into the handle for storage, the axe head does not store inside the handle between uses – unless it’s installed into position as an axe – and it does not compromise on the utility of the shovel. Once converted into an axe, you’ve got a full-size pick and adze on a 20-inch shaft. The connection to the shaft is secure and solid enough for honest axe use. The Shaxe comes with a small zip pouch in which to store the axe head – plus the hardware (four screws) used for building a rescue sled with the blade and handle.
My take on the Shaxe is that on the days that I feel a need for both an axe and a shovel, the axe tends to be my primary tool, so I’ve simply chosen to carry the shaft with axe head installed strapped to my pack as if it were my ice axe (because it is), while the shovel blade remains stowed in my pack as per normal. The axe head works as a shovel handle grip in a pinch and you can always take the standard handle grip along, too.
The compromise with the Shaxe is you get a fixed-length shovel handle and are limited to a 20-inch (50 cm) ice axe. But all of the components are well made and the simple, yet effective handle connection makes for easy transitions from shovel to axe or vice versa and solid handling in the field. The full package weighs in at 1 lb 11 oz (the same as the standard RS shovel) and it saves me nearly a pound (13 ounces) when compared to packing my shovel and lightweight ice axe (Black Diamond Raven Ultra Ice Axe) separately – a significant weight savings when packing light is the goal – and isn’t it always the goal . . .