WildSnow Mythbusters: Snowpulse Lifebag Avy Airbag Field of Vision

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | May 25, 2011      

WildSnow editor’s note: If you’ve tracked avalanche safety gear over the past decades, you know that claims and counterclaims have flown like artillery shells in the battle for market share. In our opinion, that was just a skirmish compared to what’s going to happen with a high dollar and potentially high profit item like an avy airbag backpack. One such bombshell is the claim that airbags deploying to the sides of your head will make it difficult to ski away from or out of a slide. Apparently, that’s a myth and we are here to make that clear. Thanks Nick!

See our Avalanche Airbag Backpacks overview and category listing.

The airbags of avalanche airbag packs come in a variety of styles. Some are like pillows behind your head, others like wings out the pack sides. The Snowpulse Lifebag system uses an airbag that opens out of the shoulder straps, and when inflated, wraps around your head and chest. This is intended to offer some degree of trauma protection — a good idea in view of how violent avalanches can be, or is it? Many have claimed that Snowpulse bag configuration hinders your view while you’re still upright and on your skis, which could make it difficult to ski out of a slide (a fairly dicy proposition in many cases, but it does happen.)

Rachel models her inflated Snowpulse airbag. Looks like it might block her view and make it difficult to ski. Not the case.

After skiing with a Lifebag inflated around my head, I can say that obstruction of vision is a non issue. Yes, your far peripheral view is somewhat blocked, but you still have plenty of vision to ski.


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17 Responses to “WildSnow Mythbusters: Snowpulse Lifebag Avy Airbag Field of Vision”

  1. vanessa May 25th, 2011 8:39 am

    Awesome Lou. I just got one last year and love the pack as well as the airbag function. Tested mine several times and have even loaded it with gear to do overnights. Worked great and seemed pretty burly.

  2. Steve May 25th, 2011 8:59 am

    I am pretty sure wildsnow was one of the flew making the claim that this airbag obstructs vision, looks like these guys busted the myth a long time ago.

  3. Lou May 25th, 2011 9:09 am

    Steve, it was a valid concern and I appreciate others addressing it. There were lots of people talking about it, and I constantly hear about it. If we were one of the “few” than I’m glad we were indeed willing to question how well gear works. That’s part of our job. Good that blog got on the case a long time ago, and that we could add to the myth busting.

  4. Mike Marolt May 25th, 2011 10:03 am

    is there any beta in the market place at this time that dictates these devices actually save lives, or more importantly any statistics that would suggest they are actually contributing to problems IE when the auto industry introduced air bags to automobiles, fatalities increase over 20% in the first year alone, attributed to a false sense of security. It just seems to me that with the explosion of backcountry skiing, many folks are still on the vertical side of the learning curve and I wonder if these things are contributing to increased risk that might be avoided if people didn’t have even a remote sense of security. I get the probe, shovel, beacon arguement as they are tech that you use after the fact and mistake, but when it comes to things like avalungs and airbags, I think many people are still not sold on some of this. Any beta Lou? I guess for the one guy that used it and it worked, stats don’t mean much, but what about those folks that are still questioning the logic of this? On the backs of guys with huge experience that may get caught off guard, pros working avy control i think it has a place. But what about the vast majority of people entering the game? For me, I can’t take the risk of using it, in the exact same light of why i am steadfast against using oxygen at altitude. In my mind, i am still far on the learning side of the curve, and any incentive to the contrary of not taking the risk, even if remote or subconcious based on my experience is not a good thing for me. So just curious as to any statistics on this thus far. Maybe i am wrong in my view.

  5. Lou May 25th, 2011 10:11 am

    Mike, in my opinion the only meaningful stuff out there is testing that shows without a doubt that the bags can prevent you from getting buried if you’re caught. Quite a bit of other stuff as well, but anyone experienced with stats can tell you it is difficult to draw conclusions.

    Thus, I think the best way to look at it is that, yes, it’s been shown many times that you’re much less likely to get buried if you deploy an airbag backpack. Since burial adds a huge risk factor, one can I think fairly extrapolate that the airbags thus have and will save lives. Indeed, I think they point in a painful way to the deficiency of the beacon/probe/shovel trinity, which is actually a body recovery system in many cases, rather than a life saver.

    As for the factor of folks taking more risks because they have more safety gear, that is an endless issue and argument. Worth bringing up, but I think it’s a very individual thing and people behave in lots of different way in that respect.

  6. shoveler May 25th, 2011 10:23 am

    Steve, snarky, I appreciate the work Wildsnow is doing with airbags.

  7. Steve May 25th, 2011 10:43 am

    In the video that Steve posted, how can one not say that peripheral vision isn’t affected? And I’m no engineer, but how would a steeper angle play into this-could that, combined with something wrapped around your head impair vision even further? Other than that, the bottom line is that airbags do save lives in certain types of terrain.

  8. Mike Marolt May 25th, 2011 10:59 am

    I agree, as i mentioned, to the actual people that live by using this stuff, stats are meaningless. I was just more curious than anything. Time will tell.

  9. Hojo May 25th, 2011 11:58 am

    I just can’t hold back.. I understand that this is important safety gear and important information, and I mean no disrespect… but honestly… am I the only one who can barley breathe after laughing so hard at the head-in-butt image this thing produces?

    On a serious note, is there any footage of this thing being tested in a slide?

  10. Nick May 25th, 2011 12:32 pm

    Steve- the point is that while it does encroach to some degree on your peripheral vision, it’s not enough to have a real affect on your skiing ability.

    some videos of snowpulse in use:

  11. brian h May 25th, 2011 12:43 pm

    Hojo- I saw some really good footage of an airbag (not this one) and an Avalung being used in a slide while the skier has a p.o.v. camera rolling on the Black Diamond TV (?) website. Pretty convincing footage (at least from this lemmings p.o.v.).

  12. Forrest Thorniley May 25th, 2011 1:07 pm

    I own a snowpulse. As a snowboarder I could see the issue with peripheral vision being obstructed, more so as we have to twist to look down the fall line. But bottom line, I think the increased head/neck/chest protection is worth any percieved or real decrease in ability to maneuver once in the slide. Especially in the Rockies vs Europe where we spend a lot of time tree skiing and a lot of deaths are attributed to trauma and not suffocation. It was an easy choice in my mind.

    What do you guys think?

  13. Nick May 25th, 2011 2:04 pm

    Here are some interesting anecdotes from survivors of slides using Snowpulses. The first couple talk about trauma and their belief that the wrap around design helped. However, they’re just anecdotes, so take them for what you will.


    There was a test done years ago where they put sensors in dummies to test the forces with and without airbag packs (but no trees or rocks involved, so it didn’t tell much in that regard). I can’t remember the details and the link I had is broken.

  14. Di May 26th, 2011 2:34 am

    Great! Next myth to bust is the funny head/neck protection…. 😆

  15. Davey Cooper May 26th, 2011 11:38 am

    I was hit by a large avalanche in March when I was finishing up a days touring in delicate conditions and slid about 300 metres. It was triggered by a large group of inexperienced ski tourers who were not lead properly and almost killed many of themselves as well as me. I saw the avalanche coming towards me when it was about 50 metres away and maybe had a second to deploy the bag. I was under the avalanche for about the first couple of seconds while the bag inflated and it was not nice, I was rolled like being in a washing machine. Once the bag inflated I rose to the surface and slid a couple of hundred metres and was able to change my orientation to feet first and control the slide. It may have saved my life. However, I lost my skis and had to walk for several miles in deep snow in dangerous avalanche terrain. I needed the bag to stay inflated in case there was another avalanche, I think that with the bag inflated around my head it would have been more difficult. I had the ABS system with the bags behind me. Anyway, the airbag worked for me. If anyone can speak French, here is a description of the avalanche, if not, there are some photos that may be instructive.


    One thing for sure, is that in an avalanche, if you hit a rock or a tree you are dead. However if you have time to deploy the airbag and have no obstacles in the way, it works well.

    David from the French Alps.

  16. mike marolt May 26th, 2011 12:44 pm

    just recieved a press release from BD where a guy was burried under a couple meters of snow and survived with an avalung. Awesome result and again, as i mentioned, to the one guy that uses this stuff and lives, there is only that stat that matters……..

  17. Jonathan Shefftz May 26th, 2011 3:21 pm

    “is there any beta in the market place at this time that dictates these devices actually save lives, or more importantly any statistics that would suggest they are actually contributing to problems”
    1. Regarding the former, the data for ABS (the original company) show survival rates for deployments (and attempted yet unsuccessful deployments) that seem to be far better than the general population, even when using the most biased assumptions regarding entrainment>burial>survival.
    2. Regarding the latter, whether wearing an air bag inclines the user to engage in more risky decision-making, that’s the realm of speculation.
    3. The really curious part about the ABS dataset is that the survival rate for w/o ABS skiers skiing in groups that includes ABS-equipped skiers is shockingly bad, i.e., far worse than any other data I’ve ever seen for the general population. (So maybe that does address point #2?!?)

    “when the auto industry introduced air bags to automobiles, fatalities increase over 20% in the first year alone, attributed to a false sense of security.”
    – What is the source for this contention? Are you focusing on specific car models, and comparing those w/ vs those w/o air bags? (For the nation as a whole, fatalities per miles driven have dropped steadily in recent years, with a slight uptick in one year and a couple years holding steady, but a nearly 35% drop from 1994 to 2009. The 2009 total of 30,797 deaths is of course still bad, but not as bad as the peak which IIRC was somewhere around 50,000.)

    “just recieved a press release from BD where a guy was burried under a couple meters of snow and survived with an avalung.”
    – Interesting account:
    “It was hard to take a deep breath because of all the pressure on my chest. I was breathing in short wispy breaths for a while, then the snow around my chest started to loosen up a little and I was able to get in bigger and bigger breaths. At first the breathing was very difficult because trying to fight the avalanche had winded me. Then as I regained my breath I stated to calm down a lot. I realized that I had the easy job: all I had to do was sit around while my brother had to dig a very deep hole.”
    – This is very curious:
    “However, after hiking back up to where the signal was strongest his beacon stated to malfunction. It was jumping from six meters then back up to 40 meters and back to six. Joe saw some skiers across the valley and called for help, but they were too far away to hear. Then he continued his beacon search and was able to get the beacon down to a reasonable distance and began to probe for me.”
    – But overall, although I’m having trouble finding the archived bulletin for that day, the CAIC incident rpt sure makes the decision making sound, well, perhaps “absent at best” is an apt description.

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