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Thread: avalanche air bags?

  1. #1
    Member akjw7's Avatar
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    Default avalanche air bags?

    recent sad news got me looking at this again - I don't do that kind of riding so maybe those that highmark or like Brian are into backcountry skiing might have more info on this kind of thing? Would love to hear opinions from someone with experience or who has done more research on this stuff.

    these guys sell a backpack unit http://www.abssystem.com/index.htm

    With a quick search I didn't find anything else available - but I would think some competition would be out there. (the market seems mostly european)

    The website has a stats page with an interesting spreadsheet layout of every reported avalanche involving someone who was wearing their system.

    After reading it there were tons of survivors of those avalanches who were not wearing the system at all, so I'm not sure how much that really says about its effectiveness. Also there were plenty of people who deployed it who were completely buried and something like half were partially buried. One thing I did notice was that in every case except a couple out of a hundred or so if the airbags deployed then they were visible on the surface even if the person was totally buried - that led to rapid (minute or so) rescue by other party members. Those people were not buried very deep and perhaps the airbags floated them up, but it seemed to me that the immediate location was the biggest benefit.

    A lower end model with space for a little additional storage was 599 euros - close to $900 u.s. - seems like a small price to pay compared to $10K + machine or the cost of your life. But then again my truck is old and doesn't have airbags either....money is a factor for most everyone.

    Below is a cut and past of the summary of the stat details - interesting reading all the data they present.

    RESULTS
    • 100 known accidents (with ABS) involving 119 Persons (with ABS)
    • 106 Persons with fully inflated Air Bag - 3 persons techn. Failure - 2 persons with improper handling (empty cartridge) 1 person did not carry handle 7 persons did not pull rip cord/handle
    • 13 Persons without or with only partially filled Air Bags: 3 persons uninjured, 6 persons silghtly injured, 4 persons dead
    • 106 People with inflated Air Bag: 53 Persons not burried 42 Persons partially burried 11 Persons completely burried (head) but with Air Bags visible on the surface
    • 1 Person with ABS dead (due to second avalanche) and with Air Bags not visible on the surface
    • 1 Person with inflated Air Bag died (due to second avalanche)
    • 105 People with inflated Air Bags survived

  2. #2
    Member mod elan's Avatar
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    Excellent topic! One thing to remember when looking at the stats is every avalanche is different. Some times a rider can escape and other times gets trapped. I think non motorized back country users can really benefit from this system the most, but the best thing to have is knowledge. Take avalanche courses. Get rescue training. Practice with beacons. Go out and dig holes and analyze snow layers. Learn. Learn. Learn. Then you can avoid danger the majority of the time. Having an air bag is like having a beacon. It is not a get out of jail free card. Most of the time it's only good for locating the body The air bag system just has a higher percentage of survival.

    You are exactly right on minimizing the time for locating the victim of a slide. The faster this is accomplished the better the odds of survival. I've only witnessed one slide over the years that resulted in buried people. The person with the beacon on also had a foot sticking out and was immediately found and dug out. Unfortunately the other person without a beacon took about 45 minutes to locate and free. This was with over a dozen people frantically digging. This person was blind sided by the slide and I think would have had very good chances with this air bag system. May have even made it if a beacon was worn too. I was just passing by, but that's a day I'll never forget.

  3. #3
    Member akjw7's Avatar
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    definitely not suggesting it as a get out of jail free fix - sorry to hear about your personal involvement in a fatal response. I know a few people who responded to the big slide in cordova years ago - some understandably are scarred for life. I myslef had a cousin die in an avalanche (I wasn't there) and unfortunately it involved very similar attitudes to this latest fatal incident - fine for an individual to have an invincible attitude, but they don't often take into account the impact on family and friends - lots of pain for a reason that doesn't seem worth it in the end.

    Like I said I don't really do that kind of riding or any backcountry skiing or boarding - even without planning to have a need for the skills I still have an interest and have come close to taking avalanche courses in the past couple of years, just to 'be prepared' in case I unexpectedly find myself in possible avalanche hazard situations. Timing hasn't worked out thus far, but I agree education is the most valuable tool. Other common sense type stuff includes a willingness to speak up in a group and a respect for potentially dangerous situations.

    In the aviation community that 'speak up' aspect is called CRM - crew resource management - it's banged into pilots over and over that if something isn't right speak up. So an example scenario is if you're the junior pilot in the cockpit and you think something is wrong you don't keep quiet just because the captain is more senior than you and is supposed to know what he's doing. Same goes for your riding buddies - if a situation is dangerous or even simply 'doesn't feel right' - speak up.

    back to the topic!

    I did some more digging and found a few other products:
    the life bag http://www.snowpulse.ch/v3/en/produit.php this is another style of airbag backpack except this one protects your head and nect from trauma supposedly while also giving you floatation - my non-expert opinion is that this one looks less effective than the other airbags - the other more wing style seems like it would float up away from you more letting the bag be more visible if the wearer were totally buried - this head wrap unit seems like it's more rigid and if you're buried a foot down the bag not even be visible.

    the avalanche ball http://www.lawinenball.at/English%20Home.htm this is a mechanical unit - no gas cartridge to forget, have fail, etc - so might have improved reliability? It's strictly a tool to get you rescued by others though - you pull a cord releasing the ball on a tether attached to you and if you end up buried the ball floats on top allowing others to pick up the ball and follow the cord to your buried location

    The floatation seems to be key and seems to make the airbags a better solution for not being buried - keeps you near the surface if not on top of it. Plus if you're buried it seems in nearly all cases that the bag is visible allowing quick rescue. (ball does this too but does nothing to keep you near the surface so as Mod Elan kind of said - even if you're found right away it can take a while to dig you out).

    I agree 100% with your comments that every avalanche is different and think that fact is actually quite well reflected in the stats - many of the cases on their website show multiple people in the avalanche only some of who wore the airbag system - reading through them there were tons of not burried or partially buried people with no airbags who self rescued...like I said the stats alone on their website can probably easily be applied to try and say there is no need for something like this. Like I said before the thing you notice if you go through all 100 or so of them is that very apparent pattern of airbag deployed = visible sign and buried person very close to the surface (if buried at all which most weren't fully buried)

    I read something that the gas cylinder inflation system was causing problems with US sales do to shipping issues - one possible reason they seem much more popular accross the pond. I think I would have one if I was active in that kind of recreation.

    Seems just like a pfd when on the water only I guess more expensive and not required by any regulations.

  4. #4

    Default Air bags

    There are a number of devices out there that are designed to save your bacon if caught in an avalanche. I like the avalung from black diamond. If caught you stick it in your mouth (actually you want it in your mouth before you are caught) You breath through the device, it pulls air from in front of you and expels co2 laden air behind you. Normally if you die, it is from co2 or trauma, not by running out of O2.

  5. #5
    Member akjw7's Avatar
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    ah - I did find that one also, forgot to include it http://www.avalung.com/flash/avalung.html - as described above it's a moutpiece breathing rig that is meant to prevent formation of the deadly ice mask a very real issue - read about it in the few avalanche books I've read.

    seems interesting and definitely helpful, but not so much as something designed to keep you from being buried in the first place

    if someone else is around to save you the floating ball and the ava-lung will each do different but important things - help you get located sooner and survive longer respectively...hopefully letting your buddies get you out - with high markers you usually have buddies and they are usually out of the slide area watching in horror. But if your buddies get burried too there is nobody to dig you out. avalung lets you live a bit longer - ball lets you get found easier...neither help you avoid getting buried - IMO

    I sound like a rep for this company - I'm not. I'm not even likely to be a customer - it's the technology I'm interested. It seems like a winner of a concept. I love my inflatable pfd - swimming is a viable survival technique in an avalanche it's not much of a stretch to throw in the pfd concept and bring bouancy into the solution. Add in the visible air bag part of it if you don't quite float on top and it seems to be a great way to go.

    I missed a few stories on this latest event - did just the two fatalities get caught or did some more get caught but survive or get dug out after being found via beacon? I think I am correct and this party had beacons, probes, and shovels right? The avalung has a stat - out of 100 people buried with beacons 50 die. The airbag doesn't have a similar stat because so many people weren't buried - hard to say if they would have been without it - but the people that were buried who survived is higher than the stat for beacons at 50%.

    Mod Elan - fill me in on why you mentioned it would probably benefit non-motorized users most?

  6. #6
    Member mod elan's Avatar
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    From my experience a person on a snowmachine can sometimes power out of and/or out run a slide. A non motorized user is more likely to get sucked in. No stats to back this up, just drawing off of what I have seen.

    Another thing I should add from my experience. The slide that buried the two people I spoke of above came off a hillside that had been hammered most of the day. For whatever reason it decided to let loose a couple hours later. I didn't get a chance to go back in and look at fracture lines to figure out what triggered it so late, but my point is just because a slope has tracks on it doesn't mean it's safe. It could still slide and/or trigger something higher up on the mountain.

    Unfortunately the conditions this year are very bad for snow pack stability. The whole state suffered from an incredible cold spell and then took an 80 degree swing and the mountains got hammered with heavy wet snow. This new snow layer is now sitting on ball bearings for the rest of the season.

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