ABS, Airbags, and Avalanches

For those out in the backcountry in winter or engaging in ‘out-of-bounds’ activities, your greatest enemy can be an avalanche. And knowing how to survive is one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself.

An avalanche is a sudden and massive flow of snow down a slope, triggered by either a natural or unnatural event (external stress). Avalanches are certain to occur when mountains have a standing snowpack and are typically characterized as either loose snow and slab avalanches. Either can be ‘wet’ or ‘dry’, which is simply an indication of liquid water in the snow. But the killer combination is that there is a slope where snow can accumulate, and it is steep enough to cause rapid acceleration once the snowpack has been triggered to slide.

Understanding avalanches is a huge branch of science and is studied extensively around the world. And most countries have organizations that provide avalanche safety training and survival skills.

Taking avalanche safety courses, understanding risk assessment, carrying a beacon, and using airbag-equipped backpacks, are all great methods to increase your risk of survival in case of an unfortunate event. For example, ABS has a line of Avalanche Airbag backpacks with varying capacities. These backpacks have twin airbags that inflate on either side of the pack. These are inflated using a pressurized canister of non-hazardous gas and activated using a handle. And for an even cooler variation, check out this new technology:

The North Face Powder Guide ABS Avalanche Vest, retailing for $1200. The North Face designers have incorporated airbag technology into vests. The vests fit over standard winter clothing and can be used for shorter trips into the backcountry, with room still for a shovel and avalanche probe.

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