Refilling Snowpulse 1.0 Airbag Cylinders

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Snowpulse avalanche airbag backpacks (what are these?) were the first to provide a user refillable air cylinder. This feature allows you to refill your spent cylinder and get back on the slopes without delay or shipping costs, and if you don’t want to refill it yourself, you can always exchange it for a full one through the mail. My fiance has had a Snowpulse for a couple of years and we’ve refilled it several times (no she didn’t use it in an avalanche, just for regular tests). Snowpulse is coming out with a new system (2.0) next season, which is similar to that described below, but more user friendly. While the current system may appear complex, once you’re used to it and have a good place to get the compressed air, you can do a refill quite easily. Old 1.0 or new 2.0 system, below will give you an idea of what’s involved in a refill. For our reports on this process for other brands, please see our index of Avalanche Airbag blog posts.

Rachel models her inflated Snowpulse airbag. Now that it's been triggered, we'll need to deflate the bag, repack it, and then refill the air cylinder.


To deflate the bag, you'll need to use this little stick which is attached to the inside of the backpack by a cord.

Push the stick up into the valve as shown and leave it there as you sit on the airbag to deflate it.

Once the airbag is deflated, you can start to repack it. First, you must slide the zipper which was forced open when the bag inflated back to opposite shoulder strap.

Fold the bag as shown in the included directions into the shoulder straps and begin to zip it up. It's not too difficult, as there is plenty of space for the bag to fit, but the sequence and folding methods take a few times to remember and master.

Once the airbag is put away, you'll need to disconnect the cylinder. It is screwed on in two places, the main air attachment (upper) and the release pin cable attachment (lower, attached to the red part).

Unscrew the one attached to the release pin housing first. When this is off, you'll see that the release pin is still attached to the cable but possibly far down inside the cover. Get as much cable slack as you can by pushing the trigger handle on the shoulder strap up. However, you may be unable to reach the pin. If so, very carefully use a pair of pliers covered with cloth, as you don't want to scratch that pin.

Now that the pin and cable have been pulled past the cover, unscrew the pin and save it for later. Then you can unscrew the cylinder from the air hose.

The tools needed for the procedure. Included in the refill pack are: (B) tweezers; (C) spare release pin incase you lose the original; (D) grease; (E) plastic cone to help putting on the o-ring (I don't find it necessary); (F) stickers to seal the main air outlet on top of the cylinder head x10; (G) stickers to seal the housing x10; (H) bag of o-rings x10. (I) and (J) are protective caps that come with the cylinder (A). Additional tools needed are: (K)SCBA adaptor for firestation (or a SCUBA adaptor if using a dive shop); (L) 19mm cone wrench; and (M) pliers which are sometimes necessary to get the release pin out of the cable cover on the pack. If you do this, BE SURE TO PROTECT IT WITH A CLOTH, as you don't want to scratch the release pin!

This is what a spent Snowpulse cylinder looks like. Note the little red sticker on the far left- it has a hole in it, that's where the air escaped into the airbag. The release pin is lying to bottom right, it was pulled from the piston housing, which caused the piston to shoot out of position, releasing the air and pushing the lever through the big red sticker (in the middle, the lever left a tear in it).

Unscrew the piston housing using wrench (not included). I find that a 19mm bicycle cone wrench works well, but you can also use a crescent wrench attached to the main part of the housing body.


Tear off the red sticker from the piston housing (and the one from the top of the cylinder head)


Pull out the piston from the housing. During all steps, take care to not scratch it, as you don't want a leak.

Remove the o-ring using the included plastic tweezers or a toothpick. Don't use anything that could scratch the piston. Discard the o-ring, even if it looks fine.

Use the included grease to grease a new o-ring.

Push the new o-ring onto the piston. Then grease the piston.

Reinsert the piston into the housing (o-ring side out). Notice how as you push the piston in, the lever swings out. This lever will need to be pushed in so that its hole lines up with the hole for the release pin.

Use the release pin to push the lever back in until it lines up.

When everything is lined up, grease the release pin and put it into its slot. It should now look like this.

Put a new sticker over the lever slot (wipe off any grease first). This keeps water from getting in and freezing the system.

Put a new sticker on the top of the head. Note, I'm using an older cylinder with new stickers, so I have to cut them to fit.

Put the protective plastic cap over the housing and then screw the housing back onto the cylinder head. When it's screwed all the way in, the release pin likely won't be pointing up, so to correct this, uncrew until it is facing up, then screw the nut tight to keep it there.This Snowpulse illustration shows it best. Also note how the big sticker fits on the newer head.

You’re done with the assembly part, now the cylinder is ready to be filled. This can be done at one of four places: some licensed retailers, a paintball shop, a dive shop, or a fire station. You cannot do this at the gas station or on a construction compressor as you need 3000 psi of air! The head comes with a paintball fill fitting, so that’s the easiest route, but beware that paintball shops may not be good about keeping their air dry, which is very important. Dive shops require a paintball to SCUBA adaptor, have dry air, and should be very willing to fill your cylinder in the slow winter months if they are open. Fire stations require a paintball to SCBA adaptor and also have dry air. My experience is limited to fire stations, which is a great option as they should do it for free, every town has one, and they’re often open 24/7. However, it’s a mixed bag as far as how willing they will be to do it. Some stations will even change their minds (Aspen would do it a few years ago, but not anymore), so be sure to be courteous and perhaps consider a donation of some form (although this should be a free community service- you pay taxes right?) to keep them happy. A fifth option could be a ski patrol that uses the packs, but I haven’t tried and am not sure how involved in this they would want to get.

SCBA adaptor attached. Note that the yellow caps are in place. TAKE THESE OFF WHEN YOU FILL, as the caps can be projectiles if you accidentally don't have the trigger pin all the way in. Safety glasses wouldn't be a bad idea.

Looking small in the SCBA tank holder at the fire station.

Whoever you have do it, have them fill the cylinder slowly (to avoid overheating) to 3000psi. Let them know that there is a check valve in the cylinder assembly, so when they unhook the adaptor, the air will stay in (I’ve had some confusion with that one). The cylinder will be hot, so you must cool the cylinder to room temp and then top it off. The reason for this is that gas expands when it is hot, so when the cylinder cools, the volume will drop. The cylinder gauge must read 3000 psi at room temperature. A water or snow bath will work, or just wait a couple hours. If you over fill the cylinder, there is no bleed valve, so to release some air you’ll have to release all of it.

This cylinder was in the green (3000psi) when I filled it, but then it cooled down to this level. It will fill the airbag fine at room temp, but in cold temps out in the backcountry, it might not. Go get it topped off.

My favorite method to cool the cylinder is to fill a Nalgene half full with water. Bring it with you to the filling place and it should get it cool within a few minutes.

Bonus: For air travel, you unfortunately cannot bring a filled cylinder aboard. You must remove the cylinder head from the cylinder body so that security can look inside. Make sure to take these apart before you get to the airport, and keep them that way until you reach your destination. Goes without saying that this should only be done with an empty cylinder! The head should screw off easily by hand, if you encounter resistence, a wrench may be necessary (some early Snowpulses have Loctite on the threads). When you reach your destination, screw the head back on by hand, not too tight and be careful to not cross the threads. You will then have to fill it, so be sure to have an idea on how you will do this wherever you end up. For more on flying, see my airbag overview.

'Look TSA, nothing to see in here, now please, I have powder to shred.' Snowpulse head removed from cylinder. Note the o-ring in the cylinder- be prepared for it to fly off when you unscrew the head.

Also, be sure to check out Snowpulse’s videos.

Snowpulse website

Comments

39 Responses to “Refilling Snowpulse 1.0 Airbag Cylinders”

  1. Mark W March 21st, 2011 10:13 am

    Amazing detail with tons of application photos. Thanks Nick.

  2. Pablo March 21st, 2011 11:09 am

    Hi Nick!
    Great review!
    Do U know if it’s possible to refilling with an air compressor??
    I imagin the BCA refilling system is very similar does’nt it?

  3. Lou March 21st, 2011 11:11 am

    Pablo, the super high pressure is not possible with a regular air compressor. And yes, I’d say the BCA system is somewhat similar. Nick?

  4. Roman Rodyakin March 21st, 2011 1:33 pm

    Thanks! Great review — much more detailed than the Snowpulse own instructions. I ended up buying a SCUBA dive tank at a local dive shop so that I can refill the cylinder without leaving the house. When I was buying the tank, I found it interesting that the guy remarked “this will last longer than you will be snowmobiling”. (I don’t a snowmobile, and never claimed I do.) It does appear that the sledders have adopted the technology much faster than the skiers…

  5. Mark Donohoe March 21st, 2011 4:45 pm

    Wow, Great writeup but I will never buy one of these. Way to complex to service after inflated. I would never want to have to go through all that work. Maybe in a few years things will get easier to maintain and cheaper and lighter as well. Plus finding a way to fill it up seems sketchy.

  6. Lou March 21st, 2011 6:01 pm

    Mark, stay tuned, version 2.0 is said to be much better. We would have held off on publishing this but there are zillions of version 1.0 out there, so our info is very relevant. Quite a use market for this stuff…

    Also, this post shows why simply sending in cylinders for trade to filled ones might be much much better than the self fill option.

    Overall, this stuff is in its infancy in terms of product development. Look for carbon fiber cylinders, Dyneema or equiv. airbags, all coming out over the next months and years. I believe they’ll get to the point where the airbag pack is only a few pounds heavier than those without…

  7. John Gloor March 21st, 2011 7:12 pm

    It looks like all that work refilling it takes all the humor out of pulling your buddy’s handle. They need to skip the refillable expensive tanks and go to oversized CO2 cylinders like the ones used for BB guns and tire inflators.

  8. Lou March 21st, 2011 7:34 pm

    John, that’s kind of what the other makers do who don’t supply refillable canisters. Instead, you just get the filled canister from them and if triggered it’s a quick Fedex trade for a filled one.

  9. Di March 22nd, 2011 5:45 am

    2.0 version could be better, but it will probably not appear on the market. At least in Europe for sure.

  10. Lou March 22nd, 2011 7:02 am

    Di, to the best of our knowledge the new 2.0 version of plumbing will be available next season.

  11. NT March 22nd, 2011 9:19 am

    I know I made this seem really complicated by going through every little detail, it’s really not that big of a deal. Takes 15 minutes and a very basic level of DIY sense. But, 2.0 should be much simpler from what I hear, and we should have one here at Wildsnow in the next few days to verify that. BCA’s system is very similar- stay tuned for a post on that process.

    But yes, some people might not want to hassle with this, I know Rachel wouldn’t if I wasn’t around to do it for her. In that case, you can easily exchange the cylinder for a filled one with the manufacturer. Snowpulse has a shipping facility in the US, so it’s super quick. http://www.avalanchesafety.com is the US and Canadian distribution website.

    Also, system 2.0 ought to be easily found in Europe too- Snowpulse is Swiss! As for a tank of CO2, would you want 150L of CO2 surrounding you if you were buried in an avy? The Snowpulse system is designed to keep you on top of the debris, but that is no guarantee in a terrain trap or if another slide comes over you. In that case, the Snowpulse is ingenious in that it slowly begins to deflate after a few minutes to give you an air pocket (remember, the air bag wraps around your head and chest).

  12. Lou March 22nd, 2011 9:36 am

    Thanks Nick! Good to clarify that our detailed reviews don’t necessarily mean things are too complicated — we just aim to give our readers the details! It’s like a Dynafit binding. Sure, you could take the 600,000 words we’ve published about tech bindings to mean they’re complicated, or you could just go out and use the things and realize they’re just, well, ski bindings. Same with airbag backpacks.

  13. John Gloor March 22nd, 2011 10:04 am

    Good point about the CO2 surrounding you. Other than fire hazard, is there any reason oxygen, or oxygen enriched air could not be used in a disposable canister?

  14. Lou March 22nd, 2011 10:14 am

    John, yes, it would be insane to use CO2 for an avy airbag, as that stuff is what kills you when you’re suffocated in a slide… Also, I doubt they could oxygen enrich the air enough to make a difference without it being a fire hazard, or at the least invoking yet another layer of rules and regs regarding shipping, air travel, and international safety device standards. Probably best to just stick to ambient air or inert gas.

    Some of you might have played with pure oxygen in high school science, or fooled around with a cutting torch. Powerful stuff, somewhat scary, really.

  15. aviator March 22nd, 2011 10:31 am

    LOL, an airbag is not an avalung. This thinking is flawed.
    The airbag is about keeping you out of the snow, not creating an air pocket under the snow.
    The decision what to put in the cartridge is about what gas is the driest not what is the most breathable.
    This is because in cold temperatures the valve system can freeze up much easier with air or oxygen because the gas is wet. That’s why the most advanced/reliable systems use nitrogen.
    Because it’s drier.

  16. Lou March 22nd, 2011 10:39 am

    Good points there Aviator!

  17. NT March 22nd, 2011 11:05 am

    Aviator, yes the whole point of these systems is to keep you on top of a slide, thanks for getting us back to that point. But this only works if the avalanche debris you are in is moving. In a terrain trap, you could come to a stop and have more debris pile up on top of you, burying you. In this situation, an avalung would probably be ideal, but the airbag would hopefully make you easier to find and in the case of Snowpulse, getting an air pocket wouldn’t hurt.

  18. aviator March 22nd, 2011 11:25 am

    @ nt
    But it DOES HURT bigtime if it malfunctioned due to freeze up due to air in the system.

    The available data (ABS) shows that fully buried and partly buried wearing airbags ended up so shallow they could get out themselves or really quickly with help from their partners. All that died buried had a malfunctioning airbag or didn’t deploy it at all. NONE ended up buried with a deployed airfilled airbag from what I can see.

    It’s all just theories until there is data.

  19. aviator March 22nd, 2011 11:27 am

    umm that’s *nitrogen filled not *airfilled, LOL…

  20. NT March 22nd, 2011 11:42 am

    You’re right Aviator, I’m for the most part going into theory here, and the main point is for the system to work at what it is intended to do- keep you afloat. So far, both nitrogen and air based systems have been shown to work without freezing- unless you know of an instance that I don’t?

    And if you feel you must have nitrogen, the Snowpulse 2.0 system will be compatible with ABS nitrogen cylinders, including the carbon fiber one.

    I’m trying to refrain from fueling this sidetrack, but regarding the ABS data, there was at least one instance where a second (sympathetic) avalanche buried someone with a deployed airbag.

  21. aviator March 22nd, 2011 11:58 am

    @nt
    ABS was referring to some freezing data comparing nitrogen/air risk in different temperatures from other (non-avalanche-airbag) applications somewhere.
    Anyway, it seems to me ABS make a big deal of it and they have more experience than all the others together, what does that mean?

    I must have missed that specific casualty. You are sure they weren’t rescued? Was it recently?

  22. NT March 22nd, 2011 12:07 pm

    Can’t argue with the number of years of experience ABS has with this stuff- 20 years over everyone else. What that means as far as gas choice and its chances of freezing due to water content I can’t say, but I agree that it is compelling that they chose nitrogen. I’d bet Snowpulse, BCA, and AviVest (the compressed air users) are aware of the same data in the non airbag applications you speak of and must not feel it’s an issue. Assuming they are all safe to use in cold temps, then using compressed air vs nitrogen allows for the flexibility of doing self refills.

  23. NT March 22nd, 2011 12:12 pm

    This concern with freezing highlights the need to make sure you get dry air for your refill. Certified refillers, dive shops, and fire stations should all have this as mentioned in the post. If the air is dry, then there should be no worry about freezing as there is no water to freeze. Until some actual data can be presented that dry air (which is what, 78% nitrogen?) is more likely to freeze then pure nitrogen, in an airbag application, then I’m not going to worry about it. If you’re concerned, then fill your cylinder with nitrogen, it shouldn’t affect the way it works at all.

  24. aviator March 22nd, 2011 1:05 pm

    When someone has that much of a lead over the others like ABS does, their solutions ARE the benchmarks by default, and the others when they do things differently, should explain in detail why it’s not just them trying to cut corners, easier, cheaper, heavier.
    And why it’s not a problem.
    In many cases they do things the way ABS used to do it before ABS moved on to a better solution.
    And all this focus on self refilling, and breathing air from the airbag under the snow is really weird. It’s not what choosing an airbag should be about.

  25. Nick March 22nd, 2011 1:33 pm

    Aviator, I’m just trying to present every detail I can come by so that you can make an informed decision to choose the system you want to use. The idea of the bag creating an air space is indeed a secondary concern to the main purpose, but it’s a detail nonetheless, as is the ability to do self refills. I am thankful that ABS put in all that time into getting these systems legitimatized. I’m also thankful that other companies are providing other options.

  26. aviator March 22nd, 2011 1:47 pm

    I love your contributions here, and especially all the details, I’ve said it before, they are the best, including this post!
    My comments about wrong focus was for everyone and not you so much.
    More at the discussion and the disproportionate focus everyone has on these very unimportant details every time airbags are discussed.

  27. John Gloor March 22nd, 2011 1:51 pm

    Aviator, no one here s talking about using the airbag as an intentional breathing device. In the event of a burial, the bags will probably deflate. Why surround yourself with a toxic gas, or one which can smother you? On second thought, Having a snorkel into the airbag might be a good idea. It could float you, and if buried you could breath from it.

  28. SkiBumNP March 22nd, 2011 2:08 pm

    Looks like a nice setup.
    But, I think for carrying a load (like a back pack should)
    I will be going with the Mystery Ranch BlackJack!

  29. aviator March 22nd, 2011 2:18 pm

    @john
    I’ve explained why, and nitrogen isn’t toxic. Every breath you take is 80% nitrogen.

  30. Nick March 22nd, 2011 2:38 pm

    SkiBumNP- sorry I haven’t given many details on the Snowpulse pack itself, the one I have is 3 years old, but carries weight just fine. The system is the same as in this year’s pack, so I chose to focus only on that part. I’ll post a review of one of the newer Snowpulse Packs once I have one.

  31. Nick March 22nd, 2011 3:04 pm

    Sorry for the confusion of me commenting as both NT and Nick. Switching between computers and not changing what the computer remembers from last time!

  32. Lou March 22nd, 2011 5:57 pm

    Aviator, indeed, we get sidetracked. Here is the track I stick with and where WildSnow tends to trend with my editorial influence:
    1. Airbags are to float people on the surface of an avalanche.
    2. Beacons are to find one person as quickly as possible with minimal practice.

    Other considerations such as airbag making air pocket if buried, or beacons having tons of special features for multiple burials, are secondary but worth bringing up if they don’t obscure points 1 and 2. But yes, I’m with you, we have to watch out for going off on rabbit trails that could even influence the industry to go the wrong direction if they perceive consumer attention to a “feature” that they can use for marketing but is really of dubious value.

    The thing everyone getting into this airbag thing needs to realize is that IF you are buried in a slide, you only have around a 50 percent chance of surviving. If you’re not buried, the odds go WAY up to the good side. Airbags are intended to optimize this, and I believe they’ll revolutionize avalanche safety once they’re light enough and cheap enough for almost everyone to be using one.

    The main thing is they float you. Secondary to that, if they protect from trauma that’s good. Air pocket or breathing assistance if you do get buried… I’d say that’s a rabbit trail. My opinion, anyway, keep those comments going folks. All appreciated.

  33. John Gloor March 22nd, 2011 6:53 pm

    Aviator, 100% nitrogen is not recommended for sustained life. It will smother you. The toxic gas I was talking about was CO2, which I erroneously mentioned as a source when I suggested super-sized disposable BB gun type canisters. What would happen if they had a higher percentage of oxygen in the cannister, say 50/50 oxy/nitrogen? Would it freeze upon release? Just thinking of other way to protect someone in addition to flotation

  34. rolf March 28th, 2011 9:19 am

    The funny thing is that Snowpulse told me at ISPO in Munich, they will change to nitrogen next year and they will no longer supply DIY filling nozzles, etc. For Europe it will all be ‘exchange by mail’. One of the advantages of nitrogen is that you can bring filled canisters in planes. I fished for other reasons for this sudden change, but answers were vague and in line with ‘nobody filled their own canisters anyway’ and ‘it is very fast and easy by mail’ etc. But they might not be telling everything (probably not?). ABS is now said (not confirmed) to start a legal procedure against Snowpulse for a patent infringement.
    I am very curious what will happen with version 2.0 in the States!

  35. Einar - MSD June 9th, 2011 10:23 am

    Hi Guys! Einar From Mountain Sports here, figured I would put my two-cents into this conversation.

    Snowpulse uses dry compressed air for a variety of reasons:

    First off, it’s a lot easier to refill the cylinder! SCUBA shops, Paintball Fields, Fire halls all have access to a high pressure refill stations. You can be forced to deploy your airbag and have your cylinder refilled on the same day (no sending in your cylinder and waiting for it to be returned).

    Second, in case of a burial situation. Let’s say you hit a terrain trap and the slide keeps coming down on top of you. Without any forward momentum, the airbag doesn’t have a chance to bring you to the surface. Your biggest problem besides the lack of oxygen, is the pressure. When an avalanche stops, the snow turns hard very fast. What often happens is that people don’t even have the space required to fully inflate their lungs. The Snowpulse Airbag has been designed to leak air directly through the material. So as you struggle, you push air out of the airbag. This creates space for you, and it also helps flood your environment with breathable air.

    We actually had a customer up in Alaska this winter be only partially buried. His Snowpulse kept him close to the surface, but he couldn’t move… As his airbag started deflating, he was able to get the space required to free himself. Once he was back on the surface, he was then able to go and rescue 2 friends that were fully buried.

    We’ve never had any customers tell us that their bag hasn’t inflated because of freezing…

  36. Einar - MSD June 9th, 2011 10:31 am

    One point to make on the actual subject of this article…

    Make sure to wear eye protection and also to remove the yellow caps before refilling the cylinders! If something goes wrong, these caps turn into projectiles.

    We are all human, and it can be easy to make a mistake. We had one of our employees take a cap to the eye at about 2000psi this winter. He thought the firing pin was in place but it wasn’t.

  37. Nick June 9th, 2011 10:52 am

    Einar, thanks for your input!
    I’ve only refilled at firestations, and they put the cylinder inside an safety enclosure when they fill it. Anyway, I’ll be sure to take those off in future and will edit the article to reflect that.

  38. Jack November 13th, 2011 2:47 pm

    Nick, one important reminder: If you fill your Snowpulse cylinder in a fire station, make double sure they use a ‘whip’ with a release valve. It happened to me once a friendly fireman used a ‘whip’ (firemen use this name for the hose filling their tanks) without a release valve and there is no way you can decouple the SCBA connector from your Snowpulse cylinder when 3000 lbs is pushing on the filling side of the connector, which has a one way valve inside.

    Another point – this is not what Snowpulse advises – is a solution for overfilling: you can unscrew the filling connector very slowly and very carefully until it starts to leak very little air. Do not continue to unscrew, causing the filling connector to come off and kill somebody (see what compressed air can do in the movie ‘No country for old men’). When the pressure (takes a while) is where you want it, tighten the filling connector again. This solution works best if you have used teflon tape on the threads of the filling connector.

  39. Nick Thompson November 16th, 2011 11:14 am

    Thanks Jack, good point on them needing a release valve on their end. Interesting method to release air.

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