Real Life With Avalung

Post by blogger | January 17, 2009      

Quite the thought provoking video that BD managed to acquire from an Avalung user who was buried with a helmet cam and filmed his whole experience. Comments, anyone?



25 Responses to “Real Life With Avalung”

  1. Randonnee January 17th, 2009 7:22 am

    Impressive, but more of an ad for beacons and shovels. That was a good partner rescue done in good time. Statistically he would have been fine without Avalung. However, the margin of comfort breathing under snow with the Avalung would be tremendous, compared to “letting yourself go unconscious.”

    Yeah, scary enough the times that I have been buried on purpose for dog training. It would be terrifying if your entrapment duration is unknown.

  2. Jon Miller January 17th, 2009 9:10 am

    Good on the partners for being on top of their game. I hope all of mine are as ready. actually, I have a good idea that they are because we practice often. With that said, I just got a Snowpulse airbag system. Did a test pull during a Avy 1 coures I am teaching this weekend. Pretty cool. Hope I never use it in anger!


  3. James Foulks January 17th, 2009 9:55 am

    This sends chills up my spine, the sound of the guy breathing is haunting. I agree that this is more of an add for beacons and shovels……but also for knowing how to use said equipment. I just did some beacon practice last weekend with friends and it surprised me how “rusty” one gets from season to season even though you know how to use the equipment. Still….the ad is compelling nonetheless.

  4. Rick January 17th, 2009 10:45 am

    I wish they hadn’t sped up the video, as it would have had more impact in real time. At first I thought his breathing rate was going nuts, but then I saw the timer numbers flying by. Also, it seems he wasn’t buried very deep, as there is light reaching the camera. Still pretty interesting.

    I wonder if he saw the slide (or was it just sluff?) starting to his right soon after he dropped? The camera saw it.

  5. ThomasB January 17th, 2009 12:38 pm

    of the 6 people I know who have been caught in a slide while wearing an avalung.
    2 had their packs ripped off and the other 4 didn’t have time/couldn’t put the mouth piece in their mouths. Marketing is marketing folks, if fear can sell an unnecessary war and a 700 billion bailout, you bet it can sell a pack.
    There was a little sluff in the picture,nothing to worry about. The bigger concern was a steep roll over in a rock garden ( facet farm) given last years Haines snowpack that’s about as obvious as it gets. So, the question is, did they know it was dangerous but figured they had avalungs and could “get away with it”? Did they not have a clue? in which case some education would go further than an Avalung. I also noticed the crappy Lexan shovel which should not be used for anything more than a pooper scooper. Ignorance certainly kills but I wonder if delusionally thinking gear will save you can kill even more.

  6. kevin January 17th, 2009 8:53 pm

    did he even get the avalung in his mouth? It never says and I’ve always wondered about the ability to do that and fight the slide in the first place.

  7. gringo January 18th, 2009 7:06 am the fellows who say this is an ad for beacons. Have you actually done any research on your statements that “he should be fine for that length of time”??? I hope to god you are kidding. And I also hope that no one is ever on the business end of your shovel. 4-5 minutes is deadly.

    >these responses are some of the least informed I have ever seen on Wild Snow.

  8. Randonnee January 18th, 2009 7:16 am

    Mr gringo,

    You may discover if you follow this site that many and especially this poster put little faith in surviving an avalanche burial even with competent partner rescue. There is perhaps a 10 to 20 percent increase in survival of burial with competent partner rescue. Odds of dying that I do not wish to embrace. Further, I in particular believe that there is a tragic marketing by the manufacturers of rescue gear and their sycophants in the “avalanche community” that rescue gear is safety gear. It is statistically for the most part, body recovery gear.

    New technology has allowed some fantastic survival of avalanches possible. The reality remains that those survivals continue to be the exception.

    I have all of the stuff- transceiver, shovel, probe, Avalung, ABS, avy dog. I rely on none of it. Bottom line, understand avalanching, make good decisions, do not get caught. Get it right or die.

  9. Carl Pelletier January 18th, 2009 7:18 am

    Kevin raises a question that has always intrigued me…. Does the avalung mouthpiece make it in the mouth before burial? I’d be curious to know from any folks out there who have skied with an avalung and who have been caught in a slide if they had the time and wherewithal to insert the mouthpiece while sliding. I noticed at least one hand was buried pretty far away from his mouth in the video. I also know that snow sets up instantly so you’d have to either #1. ski your route with the mouthpiece in or #2 manage to grab the mouthpiece and insert it while sliding. It seems that this would have to be an instinctual move during such a fast-acting, life-threatening event…..something that seems like it would take continual practice during safe times so that when/if the actual event does happen the motion is seamless and actually makes it in your mouth. Otherwise it seems like there would be a bunch of other stuff in your mind….like “start swimming”….”keep the skis on top” ….”what the heck have I done?” and unless you’ve practiced the move it seems like there could be a bunch of fumbling to try and get the mouthpiece in your mouth. I could be way off base because I don’t own an avalung and have not used one so maybe someone out there who has actually used one in an event can educate me! Thanks!

  10. John Gloor January 18th, 2009 9:35 am

    Carl, I own one and this is how I ski with it. The mouthpiece is zipped into the shoulder strap when you get it. It has never been fully re-stuffed since I got the pack. If I skin into an area where I feel exposed I sometimes bend the mouthpiece to in front of my mouth. The tube is corrugated like a bendable stray and it stays put where you leave it. When skiing, sometimes i’ll ski the first 5-10 turns with it in my mouth and then spit it out after I’ve skied the convexity or feel safer. I’ve also wondered if I’d have the presence of mind to stick it in my mouth with all that happens in a slide. I try not to use it as a crutch and ski more dangerous terrain as it is not “Superman’s cape” as a friend put it, but i sometimes find myself in a condition where it could help, so I use it. I hope I don’t hear from the peanut gallery for this safety admission, but everyone finds themselves in sketchy situations that need to be worked out

  11. Lou January 18th, 2009 11:54 am

    Thomas, it says in the backstory on the BD site that he indeed had it ripped out of his mouth and was able to re-insert. Must have been a pretty mellow avy to allow a person to do that, as well as get rescued in 5 minutes… So positive thing is that at least in smaller avalanches the Avalung can be useful, but in a larger one that’s ripping your clothing apart, then one has to wonder and that’s something anyone at BD would even have to admit. At the least, it would seem to me that any Avalung pack would need a crotch strap in a large avalanche, and the mouthpiece should be more like a snorkel mouthpiece. Inside source told me they didn’t do a bigger mouthpiece because some people are very adverse to holding something large in their mouth, so with a larger mouthpiece it would not have worked for everyone.

    Full disclosure: I ski with an Avalung in winter, figuring I’m in many situations where a smaller avy could happen but it could take enough time for a digout to make it a life saver.

  12. gringo January 18th, 2009 2:06 pm


    sounds like you are a ‘victim’ of the tragic marketing you spew against. You Own all the stuff but….yeah BUT.

    The extra time an avalung can give you would certainly be appreciated should you ever make a misstep in the BC….thats all I am saying.

    It does allow one to breath for an extended period of time under snow. Save for Trauma, Its a pretty cheap and light weight BC insurance policy, one that you believe in enough to have purchased. I hope you never have to use it.

    happy turning.

  13. Randonnee January 18th, 2009 2:29 pm

    yo gringo amigo,

    We agree that the real safety is avoiding getting caught in an avalanche. However, since I expose myself to backcountry avalanche terrain 80+ days per season, with 50+ powder days last year, I will accept something that would reasonably help save my life if caught.

    After I read about a couple of burial survivals using the Avalung, I decided to buy them for my wife and I. When I may need it, I ski with it in my mouth, it also serves as a snorkel. I have only used my Avalung under the snow for dog-training burials, and it does add a margin of comfort. .We do agree that Avalung is useful. My background gave me some strong transceiver skills, but the possibllity of trauma does not encourage that idea, especially here in the Cascades with so many trees to go rocketing through in an avalanche.

    Unfortunately I have been caught one time on the job and one time in the backcountry, and I am not proud of that. During those times I needed to be shoveled out once with my head unburied, but both times the avalanche was so sudden and powerful and violent that my efforts made little difference. I was pretty helpless in those avalanches.

    Again, as I like to repeat, know the snowpack from the ground up, understand terrain and avalanching and the implications of getting caught. I feel that the commitment is not described as “I may be rescued,” but instead’ get it right or die.’


  14. Matt Kinney January 18th, 2009 9:48 pm

    I wear an avalung. I am more interested in what mistakes were made that resulted in this incident considering that this was a guided trip. He may more easily skied out of it or to the side, but freaked and sat down. Was he a client or a guide?

  15. Lou January 19th, 2009 5:38 am

    Matt, the backstory is indeed missing some details. Information marketing like this works much better with full disclosure, in my opinion. So, anyone with the scoop, this and other blogs are ready and waiting for the rest of the story…

    Any time a guided group has an avalanche burial, that’s pretty danged serious, in my opinion anyway…

  16. Randonnee January 19th, 2009 7:10 am

    Paying a Guide infers safety to a reasonable degree based on the expertise that one is purchasing, is it not? It is very interesting to see reports of Clients who were caught in an avalanche while Guided, and see develop what seems some strange admiration and excuse-making of the event. Not excusable, in my profession serious errors would end a career, why not in Guiding?

    This entire industry of selling avalanche rescue equipment has success based entirely on marketing the normalization of failure in judgment for avalanche decision-making and the desperate chance of saving one’s companion during such a tragedy.

  17. Hans January 19th, 2009 12:55 pm

    The video to me is more about a bad choice of line (and approach to skiing it) than the avalung. Big old pillowed-up rollover in the middle, and it broke when he hit the bottom of the convexity (w/ no deliberate ski cut, and no escape velocity).
    Camera’s rolling bro!

  18. Hans January 19th, 2009 12:59 pm

    Really dumb call skiing right over the big pillow on the convexity (and w/o any escape velocity). Seems like the skier was in over his decision-making skills, and it’s no credit to the guide if there was one.
    This video was more like a guide for how to flush yourself than an ad for the avalung.

    Camera’s rolling bro!

  19. Matt Kinney January 19th, 2009 5:00 pm

    I had the same feeling about the ISSW paper on methods on how to escape avalanches. What had me more concerned, was that the guide outfit accumulated and documented enough incidents to write a science paper about the topic. We are in the business of avoiding slides. If I was at ISSW, I would have asked a few direct questions about the outfit ‘s practices and frequency of incidents. Interesting that participants(some who posted here) found the presentation entertaining versus disturbing and then asking why so many clients and /or guides were getting caught/injured in avalanches in Valdez. I guess the study, much like this film, had some entertainment and minimal educational values. They ignore the bigger picture such as practical lessons in how to avoid being caught in the first place as the more usefull tool of this medium. Thus these types of presentations seem to indicate that you can “normallly” survive bad decisions in avalanche terrain as a result of teasing the dragon with hubris. I realize that video has a shock value weather its this video or the video presented at ISSW. We need to look at the cause first and foremost. That’s hard to do. And I need to ski more, post less….(-:

    My wife had no desire to watch this film

  20. Mike Martin January 21st, 2009 6:01 pm

    No knowledge of the actual incident, but saw this video posted on freeskiier magazine’s site. According to the caught skiier, he put the mouth piece in as soon as he was caught but it was ripped from his mouth during the slide. As the slide slowed he was able to re-insert the mouth piece with one hand while jamming his other hand above the surface. So it would seem that no beacon was needed, hence the 5 minute rescue. The skiier also stated that the avalung did help him breathe but it was very difficult due to so much snow being jammed down his throat from the ride.

    On another note, I heard there was a slide near the eiseman hut this past weekend with all three members of the party buried; 2 full and 1 partial. Sounded like one of the full burials survived for 30 minutes using an avalung. Anyone know the story?

  21. Pete January 24th, 2009 10:27 am

    Mike: Where’d you hear about the Eiseman avy? I’d be interested in more info too…

  22. Derek January 26th, 2009 8:45 am

    I’m going to quit wearing seat belts, disable my airbags, take the batteries out of my carbon monoxide alarms, and remove all fire alarms from my house. I mean, do they REALLY have any chance of aiding survival?

  23. Lou January 26th, 2009 9:02 am

    Still no news about Eiseman avy, was it just something someone dreamed of one night after too many glasses of wine at the Eiseman Hut?

  24. Mike Martin January 26th, 2009 10:01 am

    The vail daily had an article about it last week but I never saw anything show up on CAIC’s website.

  25. Callum Arnold January 11th, 2011 3:03 pm

    To everyone who is wondering what is going on in this clip; I could explain it but you’d probably find it more beneficial if you read the story straight from one of the guys involved. here it is.

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