Black Diamond have released a new avalanche air bag which doesn’t use gas but batteries instead. This really sounds like a brilliant idea.
We all know how important it is to practice using new equipment, especially emergency equipment to ensure you are familiar with what you need to do when you REALLY need it.
In case you are not aware of avalanche air bags, they are essentially a large rucksack which has a packed away inflatable bag. If you are unlucky enough to be caught in an avalanche and you have time to do so you can pull a toggle and WOOSH!! the bag inflates faster than Matthias Mayer out of the starting gates. The idea is whilst you are being thrown all over the place by the avalanche the large amount of air attached to your back keeps you near the top which makes it easier to be rescued.
These bags all use a gas canisters with compressed air (we think air anyway, a gas of some kind) which empties when you use it. You can only use them once and they can be quite expensive to replace and in some resorts hard to find a replacement.
Using batteries instead of the expensive gas canisters it allows you to inflate the air bag and deflate it as many times as you like.
An interesting development with this bag is that because it is using a fan to inflate it, after 3 minutes of inflating and keeping the bag inflated (I think we have used the inflate word enough now) the fan is turned in reverse and sucks out all the air from the bag. This might sounds like a silly thing to do but there is a reason for this. The idea is if you are buried, by deflating the bag you all of sudden have room (200 litres) to move some of your body around. When the snow sets after the avalanche it is like concrete and you can hardly move at all so having this room should help considerably. Not only will it provide more room but there will be more air to breath.
Our only concern with this is we are not sure that 3 minutes is long enough, but I guess they have done the sums.
Each bag can deploy the air bag 3 times per charge so there isn’t any problem pulling the cord if you are concerned with the slope you are on. There is also a self-tester when you switch it on so you know all is well before you leave the apartment.
As you would expect there is a cost to this bag but it isn’t any more expensive than an ABS type bag, they will range from $1000 – $1200 with 11L, 28L and 40L sizes.
As with the probe, transceiver and other avalanche equipment you should practise as much as possible and this new bag could help save lives. Around 15 minutes buried in an avalanche and your life expectancy reduces considerably.
If you are thinking of buying an air bag check this one out, video below with the guy from JetForce who can explain the benefits much better than me! We don’t think it is available quite yet in the UK or Europe but it won’t be long.
The Airbag in Development: