whether it be riding a bike, playing football, snowboarding, or…well you get the picture.
My mom taught me this early in life. Apparently, this was true for the gang at Tahoe Mountain Sports as well. So much so, Part Two of their Avalanche Education Series was dedicated to what some think is the most important piece of safety equipment that a mountain enthusiast involved in a snow sports can own. The avalanche airbag. In America these are fairly new to the scene, but in Europe avalanche airbags have been around for 30 years.
It was the usual scene at the store on an event night. Upon entering, the raffle to benefit the Sierra Avalanche Center was first, followed by food and beverage. Merchandise was moved off to the side to make room for the chairs and screen. After a short meet and greet the night began. There was a brief description of the agenda and then the presentation. Reps from each manufacturer were on hand to go over every detail of there life saving product.
Before we go too much further I do want to point out a couple things. In no way is this recap saying you should purchase this equipment and suddenly you’re safe to go out and do whatever you want. It is simply what it says, a recap. It was made clear that this is a tool to add to your safety kit. Also, there is no substitute for knowledge. Tahoe Mountain School was on hand and all the product reps encouraged each and everyone to take at least an AIARE Level 1 course. For more information, in the Tahoe area, take a look at our Events Calendar to see a full list of the classes they offer. Simply put, avoiding an avalanche is the most effective way to stay safe.
Even with all the knowledge in the world industry experts agree that avalanches, whether in-bounds at a ski area or in the backcountry, are truly an inherent risk in the sport. This being the case companies such as Ortovox, ABS, Black Diamond, Mammut and BCA have come out with a piece of safety equipment that will allow us to reduce the risk. The technology is based on the physics size-segregation phenomenon where larger objects rise to the top. A study conducted by Swiss Federal Institute of Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) found 97% of people caught in an avalanche with an avalanche airbag survived. Most that didn’t survive were due to blunt trauma, not asphyxiation from burial. If you are involved in snowmobiling, snowshoeing, skiing or snowboarding Local Freshies encourages you to do a little more research and consider adding this piece of equipment to your gear.
Ortovox Avalanche Airbag
Ortovox kicked off the presentation. They adopted the ABS system for their avalanche airbag. What makes it unique is the avalanche airbag system can be removed and you are left with a normal functioning pack for whatever use you choose. You can chose from a number of different sizes depending on need. Emphasis was put on comfort and functionality. It operates based on the ABS system, which we will get into further below.
The next manufacturer’s product has been creating quite a buzz lately and all were excited to see it. New to the market this year was Black Diamond’s Jet Force pack.
Instead of using compressed gas they use a battery operated fan. What makes this item unique is the fan allows the avalanche airbag to be deployed multiple times on a single charge. After reading about this product for many months it was cool to see in action. One thing to note is as with many electronic devices the fan does interfere with the signal of your avalanche beacon so plan accordingly.
Mammut’s P.A.S. pack followed. Asphyxiation and trauma are the main cause of death when caught in an avalanche. The manufacturers took that into account when designing this product. This is a gas system deployed when a rip cord is pulled. The avalanche airbag inflates over your shoulders and behind your neck and head to protect your vitals when tumbling in the washing machine. These systems also come as removable.
Last, but certainly not least was ABS. The godfather of air bags. They were developed many years ago in Europe by German Peter Aschauer. Over the years ABS has tested and tweaked there system to what it is today. It uses compressed nitrogen to deploy the avalanche airbag. They developed a two bag system that when filled looks like two separate balloons stretching from the bottom of your head to the back of your thigh. The thinking behind this is that if one bag pops you have another and the length will keep more of the body on top of the snow out of danger from trauma.
After learning how the packs work it was time to see them in action. This is another reason to support Tahoe Mountain Sports and buy local. One of the most important steps regarding snow safety is to practice with your equipment. This would normally cost you $45. Each year at the avalanche airbag part of the series they allow you to deploy your pack and refill it for free! Everyone gathered around and like an avalanche airbag wave the group went in a circle and deployed their packs one by one. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow one from a local who had just purchase his pack from the store two days before. It was cool to finally see what it felt like and to experience the process of repacking.
In closing, yes these are pricey, but think about it…how much do we spend on gear to get us out there and put ourselves at risk. Don’t you think we should spend and equal amount on safety…after all how much is your life worth?