Avalanche Airbag Practice Rig — BCA Gets WildSnow Mod Treatment

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | November 27, 2017      
The rig, practice airbag supplied with 5 gallon air tank.

Built from a decommissioned BCA 27, practice airbag rucksack is supplied with 5 gallon air tank.

I’m appalled, if not terrified. It’s said that during a significant number of times skiers and riders should pull their airbag trigger — they do not. Why? A variety of reasons. From my observations and experience, a goodly number of these human misfires are caused by hesitation or downright “misses” due to cost of refills, poor habits, lack of practice, difficulty actually grabbing the trigger with gloves and more.

Practice is the solution, but in my view, simply yanking your balloon trigger with little to nothing as a consequence is less than ideal. What’s needed is a cheap easy way to pull that ripcord for full screeching deployment.

Perhaps the best solution is for retailers and educational institutions is to dedicate an electric fan pack for practice. But how about another idea? Enter the WildSnow Airbag Practice Rig, WAPeR for short.

(Please note, BCA backpacks and other fine kit are available from the sponsors of this post, Backcountry Access and Cripple Creek Backcountry).

Design philosophy here is a simple rig that inflates off an easily filled five gallon compressed air tank, requiring only 110 psi produced by a small homeowner type air compressor. The math follows. Goal is five cubic feet of fill, quickly inflating the BCA balloon to about 1 psi above ambient air pressure (that’s where the “15” number comes from).

(110 psi) x (.699 cf, five gallons) /15 = 5.126 cf — works.

In my opinion our cobbled rig functions quite well, though day-to-day use would require a more refined system. Thus, let’s call this a proof-of-concept project. Check it out.

Heart of the matter is 1.25 inch ball valve attached to compressed air tank with 0.5 inch hose.

Heart of the matter is 1.25 inch ball valve attached to compressed air tank with 0.5 inch hose. I experimented with size of feed line, larger can inflate quite fast, around a second, but made a huge amount of noise and seemed unnecessary, this 1/2 inch air line fills the balloon in about four seconds, plenty fast for realism.

Heart of the matter, valve attached to air line coming from 5 gallon tank.

Valve attached to air line coming from 5 gallon tank. As happens with compressed air systems, most of my work involved sealing multiple connections so the supply tank would maintain pressure for lengthy periods, thus eliminating hassle. It keeps a charge overnight now, pretty good.

A couple of tricky parts. Plumbing attaches to the balloon via a rubber plumbing connector, white pipe T allows for a deflation port.

A couple of tricky parts. BCA ‘motor’ was removed from the pack, leaving a connector-filler tube attached to the balloon. Plumbing attaches to the balloon filler tube via a rubber plumbing connector. White pipe T allows for a large deflation port (screw cap) that facilitates repacking.

Running a 5 gallon tank at 110 psi is just right.

Running a 5 gallon tank at 110 psi is just right.

Balloon packs as in real life, space taken by BCA motor is used by the plumbing connectors.

Balloon stows as in real life, space taken by BCA motor is used by the plumbing connectors.

(This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry.)


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


5 Responses to “Avalanche Airbag Practice Rig — BCA Gets WildSnow Mod Treatment”

  1. Bruno Schull November 27th, 2017 12:13 pm

    Yeah! You did it! Every shop that sells airbag packs should have something like this. Industry folks, are you listening/reading? In emergency situations, we are so much more likely do what we have practiced! Of course, you could make it smaller, lighter, sleeker, and what not, but, as you said, Lou, it’s a proof of concept.

    Just our of curiosity, is that how slow all airbags fill? I’m assuming it’s close. Is that incorrect? Wow. I would have thought they filled much, much faster. Would a faster inflation make any difference in an avalanche?

    Thanks for keeping attention on this Lou–as much as I love to read cool trip reports, or ski/boot/binding reviews, and as much as I don’t want to spend more money on another piece of equipment, I’m getting closer to an airbag purchase.

  2. Lou Dawson 2 November 27th, 2017 12:36 pm

    Thanks Bruno, glad you enjoyed it. The standard is for the bag to fill in 3 seconds, this one does it in about 4, I could make it faster by using 3/4 inch air hose but that seemed unnecessary, would be heavy and expensive. That said, with the 1/2 inch hose the tank has to have a bit of extra umph to make the fill go fast, which ends up slightly over inflating the bag, luckily it’s strong! I did build a rig that inflated the bag in about a second by attaching a tank directly to the ball valve with 1.25 inch pipe, that was a bit much, loud and scary. Lou

  3. Cara November 28th, 2017 12:44 am

    Hey there!

    Thanks for all the amazing information, topics and stories shared here.

    I’m not a blogger…and can’t figure out where to post this question/request:

    Any resources to share to help locate kids backcountry ski touring set up? Any one out there done with kidz pure silveretta Set up? My 8 year old daughter is a born and seasoned mountain lover…she has an insatiable desire to ski tour and I’m having troubles piecing a set up together for her: size US 3 shoe; 52 lbs 52 inches.

    Two years ago she shuffled uphill in her downhill set up; last season was a combo between renting Hagen set up and Jerry rigged telemark set up.

    Any help/guidance would be greatly appreciated!

    Cheers to life,

  4. Lou Dawson 2 November 28th, 2017 7:40 am

    Hi Cara, check out our Kid’s category:

    Thing is, it’s usually the boots that limit kid’s use of touring gear. If you can get them into a boot with tech fittings, nearly any tech binding can be made to work. Though the necessity of fiddling with boot entry in tech bindings can be discouraging. At 8 years old and enthusiastic, I’d say your daughter could probably deal with that if you helped her. Though it sounds like her feet need to be a bit larger before you can reasonably find the boots…

    The Silvretta Kidz do work, and can be shortened. I see them for sale now and then.


  5. Cara December 5th, 2017 8:01 pm

    Thanks LOU! I appreciate your response and link as a resource. Cheers, cara

Anti-Spam Quiz:

While you can subscribe to comment notification by checking the box above, you must leave a brief comment to do so, which records your email and requires you to use our anti-spam challange. If you don't like leaving substantive comments that's fine, just leave a simple comment that says something like "thanks, subscribed" with a made-up name. Check the comment subscription checkbox BEFORE you submit. NOTE: BY SUBSCRIBING TO COMMENTS YOU GIVE US PERMISSION TO STORE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS INDEFINITLY. YOU MAY REQUEST REMOVAL AND WE WILL REMOVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WITHIN 72 HOURS. To request removal of personal information, please contact us using the comment link in our site menu.
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 approval. Comments with one or more links in the text may be held in moderation, for spam prevention. If you'd like to publish a photo in a comment, contact us. Guidelines: Be civil, no personal attacks, avoid vulgarity and profanity.

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube

WildSnow Twitter Feed


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring 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 ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to WildSnow.com and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. 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. Due to human error and passing time, 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 templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version