If you're a skier, odds are you drive a car with all-wheel-drive (even if it's a 2001 Outback with 300,000 miles). Hopefully, you've also invested in decent tires. These two things will get you to most ski area or backcountry parking lots, but we also know that shit sometimes goes south, especially on powder days. When you do get stuck, which you will, the following pieces of gear will be an enormous help.
ARB Snatch Strap ($63)
Back in the day I carried an old, frayed piece of nylon rope that might or might not have broken if someone had used it to tow me out. It wasn't a sure bet, and it was also dangerous because snapped ropes can ricochet back, damaging your car, and possibly your body. Chains are even worse (seriously, watch this video).
That's why nowadays I carry a "snatch strap," which is specifically designed for towing. The strap is a big piece of webbing, and it does two things better than ropes and chains. First, it's rated for car weights, so it won't snap when pulled between two big trucks. And second, it's slightly stretchy, and that stretch creates kinetic energy that helps extract your car.
A warning: you'll need to use the snatch strap correctly for it to work. Never attach the snap to a tow ball, because straps can pull them loose and turn them into bullets. Instead, attach the strap to the tow hitch itself, or other rated recovery points. Here's a video with some helpful tips.
Maxtrax ($300 for a pair)
You're likely turned off by that enormous price tag. I get it. But here's why Maxtrax are great, and worth the money. If you're stuck on a backcountry road, and there's no one to pull you out, these and a shovel (below) are your best bet for getting home. They're essentially reinforced plastic boards with plastic teeth that go under your tires to give you traction once your wheels start spinning in slicked-out snow. You could put your floor mats under your wheels, but the Maxtrax have significantly more grip and give you a much better fighting chance. (The spikes will not damage your tires.)
Sometimes the traction created by the Maxtrax gives you enough momentum to get up and going. Other times, however, you'll need to use them a couple times to move through several feet of deep snow. I only carry two since they're expensive, but if you play a lot in the backcountry, you might want to buy four so you have one for every tire.
Each Maxtrax is about four feet long, and just over a foot wide, so a pair easily fits in the trunk of a car, or the bed of a truck. Maxtrax and other third parties also offer plenty of gadgets you can use to mount the Maxtrax to your rear spare wheel or roof rack.
Good Ol’ Shovel ($23)
No need to get fancy here. Just throw your garden shovel in the back of your car or buy a cheap one at Home Depot. Or use your avy shovel (we recommend the BCA RS, a lightweight extendable shovel for backcountry touring) if that's all you have. Do not, however, grab your driveway snow shovel since those are terrible for extracting compacted snow from around your tires.
The other key is to always leave the shovel in your car or put it back in your car if you use it around the house. The day you forget your shovel is the day you'll get stuck and have to use your skis as digging devices.