Mystery Ranch Announces Avalanche Airbag Pack

Bookmark and Share
This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
Airbag pack for backcountry skiing.

Mystery Ranch 'Blackjack' airbag pack for backcountry skiing.

So, you think the beacon wars are cutthroat? Let’s see what happens with airbag avalanche safety backpacks. Backcountry Access is retailing their Float 30 as we speak, several Euro companies tout them as well, and now Mystery Ranch enters the fray.

At winter Outdoor Retailer (we’ll be there in January) pack makers Mystery Ranch will unveil their creation. They’re calling it the Blackjack, and it looks like backcountry skiing safety innovation will be alive and well in this category. We’re of course concerned that Mystery Ranch will continue the disappointing weight trend in airbag packs, but perhaps they’ll come up with something cool in Dyneema or other space age fabrics that can ease our loads a bit. Check out the features this guy will probably have:

Backcountry skiing airbag backpack from Mystery Ranch.

Blackjack, with airbag stowed.

- Airbag technology with 150 liter airbag deigned for head-up orientation.
- Airbag components are removable for super safe days you want to go light.
- Refillable compressed air canister .
- Release trigger can be configured for a righty or lefty
- Custom fit harnessing
- Top loading 2,600 cubic inch backpack.
- Full side zip access (yawn).
- (ATP) Avalanche Tool Pocket.
- Ski carry: A Frame or Diagonal.
- Snowboard Carry: Vertical.
- Ice Axe loops.
- Shoulder strap with zipper accessory pocket.
- Waistbelt contains harnessing leg loop.

Expect airbag backpacks to become popular for backcountry skiing, as they now have a long history of documented saves. Combine with Black Diamond Avalung, and perhaps the holy grail of zero avalanche entrainment suffocation risk will finally be achieved. After that, we can start figuring out how to defend against the physical trauma that’ll still kill you in many slides, even if you’re not buried. On that subject, it’s important to note that airbag backpacks work better in terrain without “strainer” timber that’s sure to bash you up no matter what safety gear you’ve got strapped on your body. Ditto for cliffs and other terrain traps. Considering all that, if you tend to ski avalanche terrain wearing a helmet is most certainly a good idea, as is having release ski bindings with brakes instead of retention straps.

Comments

75 Responses to “Mystery Ranch Announces Avalanche Airbag Pack”

  1. John S December 7th, 2010 9:57 am

    I unwrapped my new Float 30 the other day, and yes it’s on the heavy side for a daypack, but not so that I’m going to be skiing like Quasimodo.

    I am glad to see this market expanding and competition coming on. We have snowmobilers to thank for that, as they have been buying these bags like crazy. We skiers look at the price and it sets us back, where a guy with a $15,000 snowmobile that rides in a $6000 trailer thinks a thousand bucks is the cost of playing.

  2. gillesleskieur December 7th, 2010 10:07 am

    A guide (or any other with the remote control) can deploy his Client ABS airbag from a distance with a sort of remote..

  3. Dave downing December 7th, 2010 10:13 am

    I personally love side/back access to top loading packs. Thanks for mentioning despite your overwhelming enthusiasm ;)

  4. Tay December 7th, 2010 11:09 am

    SnowPulse has the advantage over ABS as it uses compressed air instead of nitrogen; easier to acquire; but still needs a certified shop to refill it using scuba diving air. A better system perhaps would be one that has a filter to remove moister that can be attached to any gas station compressor. Though I doubt this would ever see the light of day for litigious reasons.

  5. Nick December 7th, 2010 11:13 am

    Hi Lou, the orginal ABS system company (the one that did all the groundwork in getting them allowed in airplanes) now offers ABS bags with the capability of remote deployment by the guide. I’ve seen a few groups skiing with them in Europe but I’ve never seen them deployed.

    http://www.abs-airbag.com/home.php?chid=1&m=17&lang=uk&sid=55f380d30908be1f0b49cedcd7bc7eea

  6. Lou December 7th, 2010 11:14 am

    Aha, great minds think alike!

  7. Edge December 7th, 2010 11:33 am

    That would be great if you could fill up an airbag cylinder with your home compressor. However, these do not operate as high as 3,000 psi, which is required for the Float and Snowpulse (ABS is 4,500 psi nitrogen). To operate at lower pressures would require a larger cylinder–and more weight.

    Did you know there are more dive shops per capita in Colorado than any other state? So refilling is easier in landlocked states than you might suspect.

    What will the suggested retail be on that Mystery Ranch pack?

  8. Lou December 7th, 2010 12:02 pm

    Hi Edge, I didn’t catch the MSRP of the Blackjack…, Patrick?

  9. Jonathan Shefftz December 7th, 2010 12:55 pm

    Posted in the TGR avy forum today (by “kyle christenso” which appears to be missing an “n”):
    “As a member of the sales staff working on the Black Jack AE project at Mystery Ranch I thought I would fill you in on a couple of details. First, the price of the system including the airbag will less than $900 when available for retail sale. The airbag is designed, built and tested by Avi Vest and can be installed in the Mystery Ranch Blackjack pack. The weight is approximately 8lbs with all components, and the airbag system takes up about 3.5 lbs of that. Watch Wild Snow for comprehensive compressions of all the airbag safety systems this season.”

  10. aviator December 7th, 2010 1:18 pm

    That thing weighs 8lbs!?!

    So the lightest packs by far are the ABS packs I guess? :

    2100g ABS Powder-Line 5litre w/o cartridge
    2200g ABS Powder-Line 15litre w/o cartridge

    Is there anything that can beat that?

  11. Patrick Odenbeck December 7th, 2010 1:38 pm

    The Blackjack will be sub $900. We have not come up with an exact MSRP price yet that will be released in the next month. I would like to chime in on the weight comment Lou. We have made this pack so you can customize it for different situations or tastes. Many of the components are removable so that you can reduce the weight and increase or decrease the carrying capacity of the pack- it is very customizable. We have built a framing system into this pack capable of hauling 60 lbs.

    Here are a couple other tasty tidbits.

    The side zip access is also much longer than others on the market. Allowing you to use the pack like a duffel bag.

    The ATP (Avalanche Tool Pocket) we designed so that it would fit the Chugach Pro shovel BCA and the outside of the whole pocket is constructed out of uber burly Superfabric. So when carrying skis diagonal there is no way of an edge shredding your pack.

    As for Kyle’s post on TGR had too many characters to fit in the required field- poor Kyle.

  12. aviator December 7th, 2010 1:49 pm

    total weight ABS Powder 15litre

    +280g ABS Carbon Cartridge filled weight

    and if not incuded in pack weight also:
    +65g manual handle

    2545 gram total for the Powder 15litre

    and theres still stuff that can be cut off to get even lighter :D

  13. aviator December 7th, 2010 1:51 pm

    @ Patrick Odenbeck

    decreasing and removing sounds great!
    how low can you go?
    in the lighest possible very most stripped down configuration where would you end up roughly, including activation and cartridge?

  14. KR December 7th, 2010 1:54 pm

    Who carries 60 pounds while ski touring besides a Polish mountaineer?

    I like the advances in technology and the competition but not sure why these things are so overbuilt? “Superburly” fabric? We aren’t hauling these up Yosemite walls, the average ski pack takes zero abuse, even if you diagonal carry on occasion.

  15. Alex R December 7th, 2010 2:12 pm

    I skied with a guide last year at St Anton that had the remote ABS trigger.

    He said he could sync it with everyone in the party wearing an ABS pack and it would enable him to trigger thiers by pulling his trigger. He said it was a good system, but its main drawback was the fact that it was all or nothing. If he pulled his handle everyone’s deployed, which is great if its needed, but if the guide accidentally triggers it early in the decent, then everyone is unprotected until the canister can be refilled/replaced. Seems perfect for a heli or cat skiing operation though.

    All in all I think its a great idea, and I’m happy to see some healthy competition since it will likely drive prices and weights down and increase the technology more rapidly.

  16. Patrick Odenbeck December 7th, 2010 2:34 pm

    @aviator

    The minimum weight is roughly 4 lbs. that does not include the cartridge or airbag. One reason that airbag packs are so heavy compared to every other pack design is because the additional anchoring that go into securing an airbag system. Failure of the system could be catastrophic.

    @KR

    The framing of the pack is more than other systems not only to increase comfort with a standard load but also for the ability to use it as an expedition pack for ferrying loads.

    At our home testing ground (Bridger Bowl) we have noticed that when you carry skis diagonally with a full pack even on cordura ski edges can annihilate the front of your pack. I actually made a test pack last year out of Dyneema and in less than a season I have wore many holes through the fabric- full detonation is imminent.
    Superfabric you are probably familiar with http://www.superfabric.com/ it is lighter than truck tarp material used in haul bags but very abrasive resistant.

  17. aviator December 7th, 2010 3:00 pm

    @ Patrick Odenbeck

    thank you for your fast answers!

    I’m very interested in getting the minimum weight
    including everything ready to ski, if possible?

    so would you say you feel
    the ABS Powder 15litre w carbon cartridge
    (2545 gram total including everything ready to ski)
    is built too light?
    sorry, dont wanna be a PITA, I really want to know…
    (from their product info:
    The ABS carrying system – e.g. shoulder straps, waist belt, chest strap and leg strap – meets the TÜV guidelines for extreme operational demands – PPE directive 89/686 EEC.)

    also how does the single airbag design compare to the ABS dual design?
    I guess the idea behind the dual design is you could have a malfunction on one bag and still have a chance?

  18. ac December 7th, 2010 3:37 pm

    random thought
    so, is there anything special about the suspension system?

    with conventional packs its there to carry the pack…is there another level of protection for having it ripped off the body?

  19. Lou December 7th, 2010 3:49 pm

    From what I’ve seen, it is indeed true that airbag pack have to be build somewhat more burly than other packs so they won’t get ripped off you in an avalanche. On the other hand, every time I look at one it appears they have gone overboard on the build and it could be lighter and still strong enough.

    One thing that interests me is that for the airbag pack to work correctly in a medium to large slide, it needs to be anchored to a leg harness or you’re going to end up with the waist belt under your chin. Am wondering how many people are really going to ski with the leg harness… the progress of all this is quite interesting. Sort of like ski helmets.

  20. Jonathan Shefftz December 7th, 2010 3:51 pm

    According to a media account (which of course could have all the details wrong), an avalanche over this past weekend took the lives of three ski tourers, two of whom had air bag packs.

  21. Nick December 7th, 2010 4:02 pm

    Hey Patrick,
    According to Avivest’s website, you need to send your spent cylinder in to be refilled for a $30-$40 fee. Is there a way to do it yourself (at a dive shop or fire station), similar to the Snowpulse and BCA systems? Also, can the cylinder head be removed from the cylinder so that TSA can visually inspect the inside of the empty cylinder?
    Psyched to have another option!

  22. Patrick Odenbeck December 7th, 2010 4:09 pm

    @aviator

    No problem.

    We will have exact minimum and maximum weights available soon. I do not want to give the weights of the protos because things might change once we have the final product.

    The ABS Powder 15 is a very small pack that is one reason the pack is lighter. It is basically a pack designed for heli ski clients and in my opinion too small for most tours. Many of these packs do not fit a shovel, probe or saw very easily because the packs are shorter than the tools that is also something to keep in mind.

    Through testing it has been found that the acceptable volume for an airbag system is 150 L.- whether that is spread between two bags or one ABS has chosen two for most of their packs. Both systems have been shown to work equally well in bringing the user to the surface.

    The PPE directive is the European Personal Protective Equipment directive for the ABS designs.

  23. aviator December 7th, 2010 4:16 pm

    @ jonathan
    thats horrible
    but still, that 98% survival rate or whatever the number is
    compared to the numbers w/o an airbag…. 8O

    @lou
    same thing with life vests at sea, how many really put on their crotch/leg strap on correctly…

    @patrick
    thanks, looking forward to those detailed specs…
    still, the abs vario 30 is light too, and will probably be lighter when its updated
    LOL at the PPE directive for ABS
    same as the TUV certification for dynafit I guess…

  24. Jonathan Shefftz December 7th, 2010 4:20 pm

    The survival statistics for airbag-equipped skiers are pretty impressive and very encouraging. However, remember that no comparable statistics are available for non-airbag skiers, since the ABS stats are based upon deployments not entrainment.

  25. Lou December 7th, 2010 4:31 pm

    What Patrick says about the weights, some of the smaller airbag packs out there are indeed too small for human powered backcountry skiing, so don’t let the low weights of those packs confuse the issue.

  26. David December 7th, 2010 4:54 pm

    I’m working on a new design. Instead of an airbag I am using a small helicopter blade to lift me up and over the avi.

    You have to make sure the drive shaft is long enough otherwise it makes quite a mess of your hair (regardless of helmet) and the weight is a small problem at a smidge under 1000KG.

    Anyone interested in buying one?

  27. Kyle Christenson December 7th, 2010 4:55 pm

    Refilling an Avi Vest compressed air cylinder is done in a similar manner to the BCA and Snowpluse systems. The system needs to be filled to 3,000 psi, which requires a high end compressor, or possibly scuba tanks. To refill the canister one needs to purchase a refill kit which is not currently for sale to the public, but will be less than $10. Any dive or paintball shop has the capability to fill one of these tanks if they have the correct standardized connectors. Air pressure changes greatly across temperatures, so it is best if trained professionals refill the cylinders for all manufactures airbag systems. Many ski resorts and fire departments have the capabilities to fill these systems as well, so instructions, training and refill kits will accompany these products for the professionals that will be using them this season.
    For Travel you can remove the valve from the top of a discharged cylinder which allows TSA to see that the cylinder is indeed empty. This feature is not available from some of the other manufactures.

  28. aviator December 7th, 2010 4:58 pm

    @jonathan
    sure those numbers are probably too small to make up real statistics.

    but still, in that Swiss Federal Institute report, there are numbers on fatalities
    -with airbag
    -with airbag that didnt work properly
    -with no airbag at all
    numbers from the same accidents.
    impressive and encouraging
    http://www.abs-airbag.com/_doc.php?lang=uk&dwid=30

    @lou
    30l at 8lbs is too much, and if abs can make a 15l at 5.5lbs
    surely a 30l can be made at 6.0-6.5lbs

  29. SAM December 7th, 2010 4:59 pm

    I have been holding off buying any new pack in general because I would like to have a Air bag style pack…problem is I want space to pack my essentials which is, roughly, enough gear to be out for the night and also fix most snafus far from the trailhead. By the time I stuff in the Down jacket, Lunch, and the camera, I easily fill up 2400 plus inches and none of the current offered air bag packs really live up to that size niche- they are just sassafras lil ole micro heli packs, till now. I have noted that the air bags would not help with the trauma factor 8) , but after having two friends separately deploy them in Avy’s and end up on the surface, unscathed last season, I think they are a great preventive measure to add to the quiver.

  30. Jonathan Shefftz December 7th, 2010 5:15 pm

    Aviator, thanks, I hadn’t noticed before that they’re also tallying fatalities for non-ABS skiers in parties that included ABS skiers. Not perfect, but still a pretty good start at a “natural experiment” as we say in economics.
    So from the 2009 version I have saved on my computer, the # of dead ABS skiers rose from 9 to 17, but that’s out of 295 skiers (well, boarders too), so the survival rate is 94%. For non-ABS skiers in groups of ABS skiers, the survival rate is 75%.
    I can think of all sorts of caveats to those figures, but still, the differential is very striking.

  31. Greg Moellmer December 7th, 2010 5:16 pm

    I’m struggling with cost (both price and hassle) vs. benefit of the air bags. A couple years ago my avalanche safety consisted of shovel, probe, and transceiver. Now for a day of skiing I will need: Shovel, probe, transceiver, airbag pack, avalung, full face helmet, and a variety of “impact clothing” such as knee and shin guards, spine guard, and hip pads. And this is just for avalanche safety. I’ll also need to carry a bivy bag, space blanket and extra food, clothing and water in case I have to spend a night. I’ll have my cell phone, PLB, and a HAM radio in case I don’t get cell coverage. Better throw in a Sat phone for good measure. My first-aid kit will…okay you get the point. I’m just not sure where I draw the line.

  32. aviator December 7th, 2010 5:44 pm

    @jonathan
    bear with me, lets do survival completely buried only:

    w airbag 24/31 77%
    w/o airbag 12/29 41%

    Those were the numbers that stood out for me.
    am I reading this wrong?
    please correct me, you know your numbers and stats?

    Of course, those numbers, survival completely buried for people NOT wearing airbags but who are in groups where others ARE wearing them,
    are obviously much better than for groups where no one is wearing airbags…
    Those are the really scary numbers. Are there any at all?

  33. Jonathan Shefftz December 7th, 2010 5:47 pm

    I think here what really matters is the total survival rate (however buried), since the main point of an airbag pack is to prevent full burials.
    If we were discussing Avalung incidents, then focusing on full burials would be appropriate.

  34. Mark December 7th, 2010 8:55 pm

    someone please invent an inflatable Bogner suit so I surf the avvies in chic, chic fashion.

  35. david chapman December 7th, 2010 9:59 pm

    I visited with John Weinel of Avivest yesterday as i have been considering there product for backcountry skiing. The RR on the bag canister and firing mechanism, bag and testing was very impressive, and was surprised on how small the bag was packed. The pack- vest – unfortunately looks to be geared towards snowmobiler use. The ski carry system consisted of 2 small loops that other larger straps would have to be added to enable you lash your skis diagonally not even a loop area on the back panel to attach anything to. There is no provision for a water bladder. They need to add another pouch to the back of the pack for more storage or for a shovel.
    If the front zipper broke there are no buckles or straps other than a waist belt to
    hold it on (didn’t get to try but i would think with the pack full and skis strapped to it, it would be a challenge to zip), then the thing i couldn’t get past was the extra layer the vest would add.
    I strip down as it is on those long boot hikes and sweat like a pig, i cant imagine having to try and stow more of my clothing in an already size starved less than 20L compartment. Overheating would be a huge drawback considering i couldn’t carry enough water to rehydrate. :oops:
    The Avivest is a nice product, but not thought out for the backcountry skier which surprised me as they have a very good mountaineering staff. If i was jumping out of Helicopters and just skiing, the Avivest would be fine but for packing in not so.

    The fact that Mystery Ranch has chosen to use the well engineered, field tested, air bag and mechanism by Avivest is a huge plus, add there expertise on building great backpacks, i cant wait to see the Mystery Ranch pack hit the market. Makes me wonder if they are working together on this to accommodate the skier.

  36. Randonnee December 7th, 2010 11:36 pm

    It is great to see further development and use of avalanche airbag safety equipment! My hope is that there is solid development and testing of the equipment, and that is probably so.

    I have been lugging my ABS for six seasons. Aside from the primary skill of keeping oneself from avalanche entrainment, in my view an avalanche airbag backpack is the only real avalanche safety device. The written material about the ABS was complete and convincing. Again my view, is that transceiver and shovel rescue is simply a lottery and not something that I consider a reasonable option, although I do have the gear and have used it expertly for a few decades.

    In spite of some degree of confidence in the ABS, the most important skill remains that of keeping oneself from being entrained in an avalanche. My personal safety record from thousands of days on avalanche terrain is good, but I must realize the very real possibility that one day I may get it wrong, I may miss a potential and get blindsided, and that is when the ABS will be needed. My view is get it right or die (in an avalanche), with the only exception for salvation being a properly functioning and deployed avalanche airbag.

  37. Oscar December 8th, 2010 4:03 am

    It’s funny how people think its so convenient that you can fill up your canister at a scuba shop. I, who ski 50% in europe and 50% in north america, tend to be pretty close to ski resorts – or at least ski shops. Since I use ABS, I just hand in my used cartridge and get a new one. If I do it a the shop I bought it from – its for free. And – if the case would be so that it had saved me from an avalanche, I wouldn’t mind paying them 100 grand to refill it and be able to save me again. Luckily though, if they’d charge me, they’d only take like 50 bucks.

    AND – the nitrogen canister for ABS is MUCH smaller than the scuba-alternative.

    And I have to say (no matter how much I love MR) that having the airbag behind your head (Like BCA and MR) looks like a neck-breaker.

    The bag looks sick though. But I’m not going to give up my ABS to give it a shot. Especially not when I can use a 30l pack one day, and a 50l pack the next – in the same pack. I love it. And yes, I do use the leg strap when I’m way off the track.

    And Alex R stated that the bag would be useless if deployed – nope. If you would deploy your bag by mistake or what ever, it will fulfill it’s purpose until the air is released and the balloons tucked in your pack again. Which would be rather stupid if your traveling in avy terrain. Then your choice would be too look silly, yet safe, until you can switch out your canister to a fresh one, and tuck your airbag(s) back inside of the pack. All good.

  38. RHS December 8th, 2010 5:58 am

    Would be good to get a review on a Pulse. I am under the impression that these guys are leading the way (above ABS) and the bag is super tech

  39. Lou December 8th, 2010 7:07 am

    Greg, I hear you. The ethical and just plain fear motivated dilemma of what safety gear to carry is a factor in nearly any activity with an element of risk. To me, it’s just about getting to a comfortable spot where the safety gear can be carried without adding a ridiculous amount of weight, and seems to match what I’m pushing into in terms of avalanche risk. This even involves which shovel I carry. But these days I always bring my sat phone, or cell phone if there is reception. Yeah, you need to be dug out of the avalanche first before communication is going to help you, but with more and more likelihood of surviving the ride, yet perhaps with severe injuries, getting quick rescue is going to be more and more of a factor as things like airbags and Avalungs become the standard.

  40. Lou December 8th, 2010 7:21 am

    Randonnee , well put. Thanks for chiming in. I’d also add that in places such as Colorado, it always bears repeating that avalanche risk is more severe than many of us realize. For example, a while back it was related that in our area, for the overall population, you were statistically more likely to die in an avalanche than in a car crash. I found that rather stunning, and it actually changed my approach to the whole deal (I drive faster, but dig more snow pits — just kidding). Seriously though, I did change my behavior a bit after seeing that, as it validated a theory I’d been developing for years; that in our type of snow climate a fairly extreme level of caution is necessary if one wants to have many years of safe backcountry skiing.

    All, I’m having a bit of trouble with our spam filters due to an “upgrade” and some of your comments are getting held in the moderation lineup when they shouldn’t be. That’s why you’ll sometimes file a comment and not see it appear for a while. I mention that here because Randonnee’s comment was in the que when I checked this morning.

  41. Michael December 8th, 2010 3:30 pm

    Would be great to see a review of all available airbag packs and put the debate to rest as to which is best, really like the option of zipping different packs onto the ABS system though!

  42. Lou December 8th, 2010 3:38 pm

    Michael, you have a great deal of faith in WildSnow reviews (grin)! Yes, we are doing a roundup sooner than later, and no, it will not tell you which is best. Sorry about that.

  43. Patrick Odenbeck December 8th, 2010 5:24 pm

    One interesting thing that is not discussed a lot when talking about airbag packs is where the airbag or airbags are released from on the pack and some results in the packs abilities because of that.

    There are a couple of places the bag(s) emerge from:

    Mystery Ranch – Out the lid
    SnowPulse – Out the top and shoulder pads
    BCA – Out the top and sides
    ABS – Out the sides

    A result of having a bag release from the sides is that it can limit the compressibility of the bag because you cannot put anything across the opening of airbag. The minimum thickness of the side bag is created by the depth of the exit of the airbag. This also makes it impossible to carry skis in an ‘A” Frame, carry pickets etc along the side of the pack because there are no compression straps.

  44. Lou December 8th, 2010 6:23 pm

    Great points Patrick!

  45. Jonathan Santoro December 9th, 2010 8:07 am

    Short, older article describing the development of the ABS system:
    http://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/gadgets/avalanche-air-bags-go-wireless

  46. Nick December 9th, 2010 9:16 am

    @Patrick,

    Good point on how the location of the air bag affects the usability of the pack, but what about the way it (and the wearer) will ride in a slide (orientation, protection, visibility, freedom of movement, etc)? ABS argues that the bags on the sides keep you in a horizontal position which may reduce the affect of avalanche shear forces and debris from ripping you up. Whereas the other systems place the bag closer to your head for a ‘heads-up’ avy ride and to offer varying degrees of head protection. Do you have any thoughts on this?
    And thanks again for chiming in.

  47. aviator December 9th, 2010 10:05 am

    @ nick
    isn’t the idea behind the horizontal position also to get less of a body-anchor effect happening?

    with the body buried low but your head up high risk is you need to be dug out even though you wear an airbag?

    with the horizontal position you should have a better chance to get up/out yourself and help your partners?
    kind of useful with multiple burials and those not wearing airbags relying on those wearing airbags?
    skiing down one at a time is one thing but skinning up, risk is high the whole group gets caught?

  48. Nick December 9th, 2010 12:03 pm

    @aviator
    That may be another potential benefit of the ABS, however, in practice (at least from the reports I’ve read), many users end up sitting up with their legs buried (which they can then self extricate themselves from), just like many results with the mono bag and Snowpulse systems. In other cases, ABS users seem to end up face down, buried with just the pack and bright orange bags above the surface- providing for quick rescue, but not self rescue.

  49. Patrick Odenbeck December 9th, 2010 12:35 pm

    There are a lot of arguments out there as far as what the airbag orientation does for the orientation of your body in a slide. A slide produces many forces and many end results are possible. In theory if the airbag is oriented at or above your head you have a very good chance of ending up in a head up orientation because the bag stays on the surface. The basic take away from airbag research is that you have a very high likelihood of being on the surface or visible no matter what orientation the bag deploys from.
    http://www.avivest.com/research/statistics.php

    As more research gets done I am hoping that we can get more sensor information about differences each airbag orientation.

  50. Randonnee December 9th, 2010 4:50 pm

    The data do not support such opinion as, “ABS users seem to end up face down, buried with just the pack and bright orange bags above the surface- providing for quick rescue, but not self rescue.”

    ABS has the longest history, the most extensive studies and the most extensive use, and the most “saves.” The other manufacturers as well are doing their best to make an effective,life-saving safety device.Read the data, evaluate it, make a decision. Avalanche airbags are the only real safety device, the other “safety” devices are a lottery for survival- slim to none chance.

  51. Lou December 9th, 2010 5:32 pm

    It bears saying that the folks in EU who study airbags for avalanche make a habit of tossing dummies with airbags into real avalanches, then recording the results. The results are indeed impressive in terms of the bag preventing burial. I’ve thought for a long time that we need more use of these things, myself included. I just have trouble with the weight…

  52. Nick December 9th, 2010 5:45 pm

    @Randonnee,
    You left out a key part of the quote: “In other cases…” i.e. not all the time. if you don’t believe me, go to ABS’s website and read some of the first hand accounts. However, I may have used the term ‘buried’ inappropriately, what i meant was that users ended up lying face down and needed to be extricated. Their packs and perhaps other body parts were visible above the surface, but not their chest and face. But as I said in my original post, MANY users (who reported anyway), end up head up and above the surface.
    I totally agree with you about the value of these devices to save lives, that’s why I have one and hope that soon everyone else will too. I’m grateful for the years that ABS has put into this, and am grateful that other manufacturers are providing more options and stimulating interested and further advancements.

  53. Randonnee December 9th, 2010 7:48 pm

    Yes, Lou. At the 1994 ISSW was video of a volunteer standing beneath an open snow slope that was initiated to avalanche by an explosive charge. In the video, the guy pulled the ABS handle, the bags inflated, he rode the slide safely. That was unforgettable! When I had the opportunity I bought an ABS.

    It seems that recently the top of the line transceiver, probe, and shovel cost most of the price of an avalanche airbag. While not useless, I carry that stuff, that type of rescue has a statistically unacceptable low rate of success in my view. That stuff seems to generate endless fascination for many folks, and none of it matters in too many scenarios.

    Get it right or die, and wear an ABS.

  54. Lou December 9th, 2010 8:18 pm

    Spot on there Rando, as you know I agree about the overblown dependence on companion rescue. The stats just don’t support it, in my view, so wow I’m sure glad there is an alternative. My son Louie is already using a BCA Float, and I’ll be going in the airbag direction as well, though I’m having trouble with the added weight.

  55. Nick December 9th, 2010 8:21 pm

    Wow, that would be an incredible video to see. Talk about conviction! Does anybody have it?

  56. Lou December 9th, 2010 8:29 pm

    That thing must be on the web somewhere. I’ve seen some vids of the dummies, but never a live test. I wonder if they at least gave the guy a free beer when he was done.

  57. Greg Moellmer December 9th, 2010 8:45 pm

    Up until last year almost all my backcountry skiing was alone. I’m a little schizoid I suppose. Yet I always carry my avalanche equipment partly because when you ski in the wasatch there if often another party not too far away. Nevertheless, with the airbag, I’d have a piece of avalanche equipment that could actually be of value when skiing alone. For all my solo trips I should leave the beacon, shovel, avalung and probe at home and throw on an airbag. The added weight would be a wash without the other stuff (maybe). I’m really starting to entertain this new idea. Now about the $700. Hmmm.

  58. Randonnee December 9th, 2010 9:13 pm

    Yes the added weight can be annoying.

  59. John S December 9th, 2010 11:23 pm

    I bought a Float 30 this year. The stats are too compelling for me not to buy an airbag pack. Suppose you hear that fracture and know you’re about to go for a ride. Would you, at that moment, write a cheque for $700-1000 to dramatically increase your odds of not being buried? I know I would!

    I look at my small fleet of skis, bindings and boots, and think about the investment. What about travel costs, hut costs, and so on? All of the money and time that goes into ski touring/mountaineering, and I can’t find the money for the ONLY device that is proven to reduce your chances of being buried? Sheesh.

    Now, the trick is not to think of it as a “get out of avalanche free” card. We need to use our brains and back off just as if we weren’t carrying any of the safety gear.

    I am so glad to see that the competition is heating up in this important category. Weight will always be an issue thanks to the additional hardware, but as the technology is sorted out and overall costs come down, perhaps we’ll see more exotic materials. Airbag packs will always weigh more than their non-bag equipped counterparts, but I bet that overall, airbag packs will see some weight loss over the next few generations of the products.

  60. Tom December 10th, 2010 11:50 am

    November issue of Outside magazine, pg. 80. Article written by an avalanche survivor while skiing in B.C. His Snopulse avy pack had brought him back to the slide surface twice during the course of the slide. Interesting and convincing(?) article.

  61. J P December 10th, 2010 12:21 pm

    I would be very interested to see the research on these devices. Did they test a number of different sizes, and conclude that 150L was the best size, or all the manufacturer’s just copying the size. If 150L is good, would 200L be better? How about 50L? Would it work at all, or not? If a smaller and cheaper device provided some benefit, perhaps it would be more widely sold and end up saving more lives.

  62. Nick December 10th, 2010 1:04 pm

    ABS started out with a 150L single bag, but moved to a dual bag system with 170L total. They tout the extra surface area created by 2 bags as being an improvement over the single bag. Apparently their studies determined that 140L was the minimum to provide adequate buoyancy for a large adult (So perhaps lighter people could get away with a smaller volume bag?). The other manufactures have done their own tests, but largely rely on the tests ABS has been doing since the 80s. Not sure where to find the data to support the bag sizes, just going off what I remember hearing. Anyone know?

  63. Nick December 10th, 2010 1:44 pm

    Ok, here is ABS’s reasoning for coming up with the necessary airbag volume. 145L is the minimum needed to make a 100kg person (220lbs, including ski gear) have the same volume as 100kg of powder snow (snow is less dense than humans). see images below
    http://www.wildsnow.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Airbag-stats-volume1.jpg
    http://www.wildsnow.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Airbag-stats-volume2.jpg

  64. J P December 11th, 2010 12:40 am

    A quick calculation of their data on snow weight and volume shows that it appears to be based on about a 40% water equivalence. That’s not powder snow, but it probably is close to the density of some avalanche debris. If any research with different size airbags has been done, I think that would be extremely interesting. I understand the concept of them, but I think the size seems somewhat arbitrary.

  65. Lou December 11th, 2010 6:47 am

    40% water equivalence? That’s indeed about as far from powder as you can get, and most certainly not the density of most running avalanches, only the density after they stop.

    In my opinion based on what I’ve seen over the years, airbag size is based on two things: practicality of what weight and size a person can ski with both un-deployed and deployed, and field testing by tossing the thing into real avalanches. Field testing these things for flotation is easy, really no need for theoretical exercises. Place on avalanche slope, trigger slide, watch and learn.

  66. Jim Predmore December 11th, 2010 7:26 am

    Lou,
    I’ve been enjoying Wildsnow for several years, maybe you or your readers can provide me with some information. I need to have my ankle fused (tibia to talus) as a result of a climbing injury years ago. This will prevent me from moving my leg/knee forward and back! I’m an avid backcountry skier and climber. I wonder how this will affect my ability to ski. Do you (or any Wildsnow followers) have any experience with tibia to talus fusions???
    Jim P

  67. Lou December 11th, 2010 7:53 am

    I happen to have a fused ankle, and I’m headed out backcountry skiing in about 10 minutes and climbed and skied Denali a few months ago. Next question? :D

  68. Jim Predmore December 11th, 2010 9:27 am

    Thanks Lou for the rapid fire response on the ankle fusion question. It’s great to hear a positive response about function after a fusion. I’m concerned about the prospect of not being able to move the knee forward and back. Did you have just the tibia/ talus fused or was your subtalar joint fused also? Also, how long ago were you fused and how soon after the surgery were you back on skis? The surgeons are telling me twelve weeks on crutches.

  69. Kidd December 11th, 2010 10:25 am

    So why the fused ankle??

  70. Jim Predmore December 11th, 2010 7:28 pm

    Ankle fusion is intended to reduce or eliminate the pain resulting from osteoarthritis (bone on bone grinding). My osteoarthritis results from falling 65 feet while being lowered from a climb and landing at a rapid rate of speed on my right foot. That was 13 years ago, I’ve skied and climbed since then. Any other ankle fusions out there?

  71. Lou December 12th, 2010 5:34 pm

    Mine was just 30 years of abuse, starting with soccer injury when I was around 13 years old from trying to play kick/goal in my church shoes. Had it fused while in my 30s, and have to admit it was scary as I thought it would be much more of a disability than it actually is. The arthritic tissue in there still hurts a bit, and the lower joint that’s not fused is probably getting a bit manky, but hey, the pain before fusion was incredibly bad and the bone spurs were fusing it anyway, only at the wrong angle. Lou

  72. Jim Predmore December 12th, 2010 6:37 pm

    Sounds like you’ve made the best of a bad situation, Lou. I’m trying to sneak in another winters worth of turns and possibly do the surgery in the spring. A recent shot of cortizone bought me some time but I’m told it’s temporary. I’ll be in Aspen the first three weeks of February, I’d love to make some turns with you. By the way, Wildsnow is great, I love it, keep it up!
    Jim P

  73. J P December 12th, 2010 7:54 pm

    As for airbag size, it seems to me that bigger would certainly better, so why are all the manufacturer’s making almost the exact same size? Certainly, theoretical size doesn’t have to be the deciding factor if you’ve got testing that shows what size is best. Before I cough up $1000 or so for one I’d like to know how much testing has been done, what it showed, whether a bigger one would be better, if a smaller one would help, etc. I’ve found some of the testing data online, but am still looking for more info. If anyone has any good links or contacts to those with the data, please send it my way.

  74. Lou December 12th, 2010 8:20 pm

    In modern skiing, isn’t bigger always better? :D

  75. Jeff January 7th, 2011 1:03 pm

    WAY too expensive.

    Its a 400 dollar pack, made for about 175, with a crack head markup to 900USD.

Got something to say? Please do so.





Anti-Spam Quiz:


If you need an emoticon for a comment just copy/paste off the following list, or use text code you might be familiar with.
:D    :-)    :(    :lol:    :x    :P    :oops:    :cry:    :evil:    :twisted:    :roll:    :wink:    :!:    :?:    :idea:    :arrow:   
  
Due to comment spam we moderate most comments. Please do not submit your comment twice -- it will appear shortly after we approve it. Once you've had one comment published, your comments will be pre-approved and appear immediately if you're using the same computer and not blocking browser cookies. NOTE however that ALL comments with one or more links in the text will be held for moderation no matter what, again for spam prevention.
Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

All material on this website online magazine is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked.. Permission required for reproduction, electronic or otherwise. This includes publication and display on other websites by whatever means. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

Backcountry skiing is a dangerous sport. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. While the authors and editors of the information on this website make every effort to present useful information about ski mountaineering, due to human error the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions or templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow its owners and contributors of any liability for use of said items for backcountry skiing or any other use.

Switch to our mobile site