Big thanks to Backcountry Access for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
Big stop of the day was probably Backcountry Access (BCA). Their (now on the market) Float 30 avy airbag is worth some blog time. The new Tracker2 beacon looks good as well, and does have that fast processing time that makes for a very fluid and intuitive search style. We’ll get more into the beacon at a later date, for now, the airbag.
BCA has refined their avalanche airbag “Float 30” pack, and they’re shipping to selected retailers. This thing is excellent. Only about 5 extra pounds for the bag system, built into a fairly nice backpack.
I’d still like to see more variety in the packs airbags are built into — main gripe being that many seem to be overbuilt. But the fact remains that avalanche airbags save lives so quibbling about the style of backpack is perhaps a symptom of too much blogging… or too much traveling?
Airbag points to remember:
What frequently kills people in avalanches is lengthy burial times; tests show that airbags can prevent burial in a majority of cases.
While an airbag that inflates around your head for protection is a seductive concept, it’s really not practical. The deal is you don’t want to hesitate pulling the cord if you’re in a slide, but at the same time you may still be on your feet trying to ski out of the flow, or perhaps swimming or fighting. A big airbag that wraps around your head could prevent anything but fairly passive behavior once deployed. Float inflates only up and behind your head and cuts off none of your peripheral vision. It feels quite reasonable for something so bulky.
You need to be able to play around with and test your airbag, then easily get the gas cylinder refilled. BCA’s system can be recharged just like a paintball gun tank or SCUBA tank. Easy and inexpensive. Traveling? Discharge for airline travel, easily recharge at your destination.
An anchoring harness system that goes under the crotch is essential for proper performance of an avalanche airbag (and possibly the BD Avalung as well). If you’re using an airbag and just carrying it with shoulder straps and waistbelt, you’re fooling yourself as to how effective it’ll be if you take a ride and actually need the thing. At best, you’ll end up with your pack tangled up around your neck and head, at worst it’ll get ripped off your body.
The hassle and style (and flesh) crunching nature of a crotch harness is is in my view one of the major drawbacks of avalanche airbags. More, while the Float does have a harness that is strong and stows away cleanly, it’s not UIAA climbing rated so you’d have to wear it along with your climbing harness if you’re doing ski alpinism. That’s of course impractical, so you’d need to cobble up a system of clipping the airbag waist belt into your climbing harness. And so on.
So, the solution I propose is that BCA’s next product should be a ski touring pant with a built in minimalist harness that doubles as both airbag anchor and low bulk climbing harness for backcountry skiers.
Heard at WildSnow HQ the morning before a ski tour “honey, remember to wear your airbag pants…”