Dec 04 2010

Review: Ortovox Kodiak Shovel

Straight connection, or angled 90°

When Manuel Genswein decided to investigate if there might be an optimal shoveling technique, he enlisted the help of university students from Norway and shovels from several manufacturers. His observations on what makes a good shovel for digging in hard snow were sobering. Plastic is simply not worth considering. Every brand of “tough” polycarbonate blades shattered. When plastic fails, it is catastrophic.

It can be a catastrophe with aluminum too, but that only happens when it isn’t tempered. Tempered blades can bend and crack, but according to Genswein, that is usually a defect in the structural design when this occurs. Those shovels that lasted throughout the many excavations were all tempered aluminum, with a straight-edge. Pointed blades bent. Serrated blades tended to have other problems, not due to the serration. And the top of the shovel blade needed to have flat surfaces for stomping on without your boots sliding off. Voile’s tempered aluminum blades were king in this test.

Many companies were embarrassed at the results and have not promoted the findings of this paper which has seen limited publication. Ortovox was one of them.

A human-powered hoe.

Rather than hope the results would go away, Gerald Kampel invited Manuel to make recommendations to their shovel line. The Kodiak is one of the results; a structural improvement to Ortovox’ Grizzly shovel.

A lot of folks look at me funny when I tell them this is one of the best shovels for moving a lot of snow fast because you can pivot the blade and work it like a hoe. They’re stuck in the straight shovel, bend over for every shovel full paradigm. You don’t have to bend up and down to move snow like you do with a straight blade, especially if you can paddle the snow downhill.

Trust me, if you’re ever involved in an avalanche rescue, you’ll wish you had a backhoe you could fire up right then just by spitting on some dehydrated backhoe crystals. Until you can beam one in from an app on your iPhone, a collapsible, human-powered hoe is the next best thing.

Pivoting head works, but lacks long term durability.That’s what I learned using the Grizzly. Unfortunately the locking mechanism of the Grizzly is a little push-pin that extends into a hole in the blade. Over time that hole gets reamed out and the blade gets a bit wobbly. Not unusable, but you can tell it will fail eventually.

The Kodiak keeps the hoe option, but you change the orientation of the blade by connecting the shaft through a vertical or perpendicular yoke at the top of the blade. It’s a solid connection.

Straight or 90° connection

The shaft is only 19¼ inches stored, and extends to 24 useable inches for a short (37 inches head-to-toe), but useable shaft length. It is perfect for use when attached at a 90° angle. When collapsed fits easily in the back compartment of my Avalung pack.

The back of the blade is relatively flat, good for digging smooth snow-pit walls. The edge of the blade is slightly serrated, just like the Grizzly. My Griz is showing wear after one season of removing berms of Sierra cement. It is a tough job and the wear is not undeserved. It’s a wonder the latching pin didn’t break with some of the junk I forced it to move. Since the Kodiak has a solid shaft connection, it should last much longer.

One side effect of the shaft connection is the shaft protrudes out the backside of the blade a full 2 inches. The ramifications in snow are limited, but if you’re hoeing snow away from a wall, the protruding shaft gets in the way when you’re trying to scrape close. Otherwise, it’s a great shovel for moving lots of snow fast.