Avalanche Airbags – A Marmalade guide to the bags of brilliance
What are they, how do they work, are they effective and what’s available?
Rucksacks essentially designed to help you in the unfortunate event of an avalanche. In a nutshell, these bags work through a process called inverse segregation. Imagine giving your bag of muesli a good shake before pouring yourself a bowl. All of the bigger bits will rise to the top of the packet. Avalanches work the same way as this. So in the unfortunate event of being caught out, when you trigger your airbag you are dramatically increasing your chances of survival because the inflated bags attached to you ensure you remain closer to the surface of the avalanche. You are a brazil nut as opposed to a raisin in the box of Muesli.
Share the chunky bits, don’t shake!! ;-)
Although snow is indeed at one point in time a liquid, it doesn’t act in the same way as water. Therefore, avalanche bags don’t actually work by making you float on the surface. It’s the increase in volume of the skier or boarder that keeps them as high as possible in the snow structure.
There are different types of avalanche pack available, although they all work on the same principle. Airbags inflate once the gas canister within the system is activated, by means of a trigger handle on the backpack found near the side strap or chest plate. One or two inflatable sacks shoot out of the bag. This bit of magic takes between 3 and 5 seconds.
From the original packs designed in the 1990’s, there has been huge development, especially in the last couple of years. More companies are jumping on the bandwagon as they see that there is a real demand for these bags and the market is growing. With the increase in competition, along with more research and design, this has helped the bags to not only come down in weight substantially but also be cheaper and all round better systems/packs. These days they are essentially high quality, ergonomically designed, super functional backpacks that also contain air bags.
Statistics speak for themselves. Of the 263 deploys since 1991, the survival rate has been 97%.
Don’t be fooled, these aren’t magic carpets or Nimbus 2000s. They don’t give you a green card to ski anything, anywhere. They are an added layer of safety on top of the all important transceiver, shovel and probe. They don’t guarantee safety, merely a tool that has the potential to save lives.
A few of the top bags on offer today….
Black Diamond Halo 28 JetForce, £676 – Light,small,battery operated so can be re-deployed, self checks. Test it before you leave the house…
The North Face Modulator, £550 – New to the market, Converts any backpack into an avalanche air bag. Light and awesome idea.
Mammut Alyeska Protection Vest, £590 – Head and torso protection, essentially just an airbag, good for heli and the minimalist. Super light, forget taking sarnies.
Scott Alpride Air Free 30, £530 – All new design, well built and plenty of features. Tough and compact.
Osprey Kode ABS 22+10 backpack, £520. Loaded with functions, the abs part can be taken off to leave a normal bag. Well made and built to last.
Ortovox Base 20, £569 – Aimed at freeriders /daytrippers, modular bag system and light. Comfortable and color coded.
Backcountry Access Float 27, £490 – Inexpensive, well designed and comfy. Not too heavy, offers head and neck protection.
These bags are there as a back-up, along with transceivers. The more you can learn about snow conditions, snow pack and ski techniques hopefully the decisions you make when off-piste will be more informed and in the event of an avalanche you know what to do and how to conduct a search and rescue. Transceivers are essential but you must know how to use them too. Bags are another line of defense but you still have to pull them!
It’s worth remembering also that these bags are awesome backpacks too, designed to carry your skis, stow a helmet, and be super comfy. With them being even lighter there is even less reason not to just put it on after you have put on your transceiver, then start exploring.
We are all barmy about off piste and back country skiing at Marmalade and know the 3 Valleys like it’s our own back yard. Let us show you not only how to ski off piste and where to find the secret spots, but also how to use the kit. Stay safe, have fun, smile more. #aveczest.