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His & Her Airbags

These have been in the news a lot lately.

Christy and I decided we’d get avalanche airbags for each other as Christmas presents this year. And even though we haven’t been backcountry skiing at all this season due to the dicey conditions, we know they’ll eventually see some use.

In the meantime, we’ve been familiarizing ourselves with them, from test blows, to repacking and refilling the canisters. They work great.

Airbag diagram

Graphic courtesy of Snowpulse

The idea is based on the principle of inverse segregation, which according to Snowpulse, a leading manufacturer, “is a phenomenon that results in the biggest particles of a fluid in motion, at equal density, being on the surface after a certain amount of time. Inflated, the airbag raises the victim’s volume and decreases their density, it therefore increases their “ floating ” capacity during an avalanche.”

There are several popular models available these days and they all have some pros and cons, so rather than deliberate the details forever, we just picked one– the 30-liter Mammut model. What we like about this particular brand is that the whole airbag system is removable (called R.A.S.) and can also be re-integrated into other size Mammut packs, meaning the packs are able to be used for other purposes and other seasons without the R.A.S. system. This year, a 30-liter and 22-liter pack is available, next season two more sizes will hit the market.

While this technology is not new, the high number of avalanche accidents this season greatly increased the airbag discussion. Some claim the backpacks encourage increased levels of risk and bad decision making by giving users a false sense of security. One video in particular (below) that went viral on the internet earlier this winter shows a snowboarder who was saved by her airbag. But afterwards, many accused the group of being reckless, because they were riding in terrain known to be very risky, and on a day rated to have”considerable” danger. Hindsight is 20/20 and I don’t find that criticism to be entirely fair. I see the video more as a testimony to the airbags effectiveness than anything.

We’re not planning to take on more risk or allow ourselves bad decisions. Neither Christy nor I have ever been caught or buried in an avalanche, and we certainly don’t plan to anytime soon. Our take is simple. Prior to getting these packs, the avalanche safety gear we carried with us was intended to help find a partner once they were buried, a scenario we’d all like to avoid. The airbag can prevent being buried in the first place. We think that’s a good thing.

Thanks to Dirk at Aspen Expeditions for getting us all set up. I’d recommend giving the shop a call if you’re interested in purchasing one. They carry a lot of different brands and models.


Get a jump on Spring at Altrec Outdoors

8 comments to His & Her Airbags

  • Rod Nash/ Arlene Edwards

    Dirk showed us one at Highlands base the day we all skied. Mouse said the price ($800) was well below what they had been. The video is impresssive; damn thing works. But like seatbelts in cars it would seem to be easy to short cut around it instead of EVERY TIME. Hugs. Rod and DangerMouse.

  • Nice! I have been eyeing these all season and I’m pretty excited about all the new companies coming out with their own models.

    My wife and I are new to colorado this season and are SLOWLY working our way into the backcountry. We just took a level I course last weekend and are just buying time right now waiting for the conditions to stabilize. It’s awesome to see folks like you guys who are of a similar mindset. Seems like there are plenty of folks out there that wouldn’t take the safe route and just say “hey, I’ve got the gear, let’s go!”

    Hope you guys get a chance to get out soon, and hope that you never really have to use those new airbags.

  • It’s quite an ingenious but expensive piece of kit—and one that you will hopefully never have to use. So let me suggest some other potential uses so that you get a bit more bang for your buck.

    Let’s say you’re on the subway in the middle of rush hour and you’re crammed in the train and want some additional space. PULL THE STRAP.

    Walking down a street in a bad area, you may sense that a mugger is about to attack you from behind. PULL THE STRAP.

    You want to get the monkey off your back. PULL THE STRAP.

    You feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders. PULL THE STRAP.

    If you’re in the post office and stuck in an especially funereal line and the person behind you is yammering into their cell phone and it’s driving you up the wall, PULL THE STRAP.

    You’re on a plane and you’re in the bathroom and the plane suddenly experiences violent turbulence and you’re being smashed against the walls of the WC. PULL THE STRAP.

    I hope this helps in some way.

  • NealB

    Pull it!! Right now… I dare you!
    Be the first to inflate that baby right in the shop.

  • LarryB

    This would make an excellent front pack for some obnoxious people I know.

  • ted

    Ryan,
    Yes, we’re fine to wait. Things will shape up in a couple of weeks when spring arrives.

    And to comment on the rest, these bags sure do have a lot of applications outside of avalanche safety. Kind of funny to think about.

  • Dicey conditions even in the usually stable snowpack of the Wasatch this year, too. Its interesting how the dynamics of who you ski with influences not only the decisions you make while you are out in the mountains, but just whether you even want to ski. I ski with my girlfriend 100% of the time, so we’re a lot like you and Christy – when conditions are like they are this year, we have no motivation to even take the smallest of chances. We pretty much decided that we’re not skiing BC until spring, and are just focusing on running this winter. Maybe we’re paranoid a bit… we have training and have spent a lot of time in the backcountry, but I just have a weird feeling about skiing this year and I just can’t get over the mental hurdle of exposing my GF to any type of danger this season.

    The airbags look pretty cool. I hope (and think) they’ll probably continue to come down in price.

  • ted

    Jake,
    The conservative call, at least in backcountry skiing, is really the smart one. Let’s just play the hand we were dealt. Sounds like it’s been good to you both, and that you’ve been crushing the running scene lately.

    The bags will come down in price a bit, but I’d expect them still be pretty pricey, say in the $500 range. Just guessing of course.

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