Avalanche Airbags - Your back-mounted Guardian Angel
If you’re skiing or snowboarding in unsecured backcountry, an avalanche backpack should be part of your safety equipment. Avalanche airbags, which are integrated into backpacks, are an essential tool when it comes to guaranteeing your safety in the backcountry. But always remember: Even though you have an avalanche airbag, you should never forego the rest of your avalanche safety gear. You should always have a transceiver on your person and a shovel and probe in your backpack.
The Functional Principle or How Physics Could Save Your Life
The way an avalanche airbag works is, in principle, actually fairly simple to explain: You have one or two airbags built into your backpack which, a bit like a lifejacket, help to keep you above the surface in the event of an avalanche. This physical principle is known as “Inverse Segregation” or the "Brazil nut effect". This sorting effect dictates that, in a moving body of particles, smaller particles sink to the bottom, whereas the larger particles (you) rise to the top. The avalanche airbag increases the rider’s volume, considerably augmenting this effect, thereby keeping the rider’s body on the surface of the avalanche and preventing a complete burial.
But remember: a backpack fitted with an avalanche airbag system cannot and will not prevent against avalanches! When you’re out in the backcountry, never take unnecessary risks and always be aware of alpine dangers!
ABS, Mammut and BCA - the Different Technologies
Three systems have come to the forefront of the European market over the last few years. ABS launched their pioneering, fully functional avalanche airbag system in 1985. A lot has changed since then and other outdoor brands such as Mammut and BCA have begun to develop their own backpack airbag systems to save more lives in the event of avalanches.
ABS® TwinBag System - Two Bags Are Better Than One
The ABS system sets itself apart from the others on the basis of its twin bags. On pulling the trigger a pneumatic firing pin punctures a pressurized cartridge, explosively filling both airbags. Inflated, the airbags have a volume of 170 litres and the trigger can be positioned on either the right or left hand side, according to the user’s needs.
R.A.S - Removable Airbag System
The Removable Airbag System, or R.A.S for short, is a square Airbag that inflates behind your head. This removable avalanche airbag system can be effortlessly installed in and removed from compatible R.A.S backpacks. The Air 30 RAS system, for example, was released in partnership with Scott.
Protection Airbag System
The Protection Airbag System is the successor to the renowned Snowpulse Lifebag System. Thanks to their Trauma Protection and special positioning of the airbag behind the head, the neck, back and chest areas are all protected from mechanical injuries. Like the R.A.S, the Protection Airbag System can be installed in any compatible backpack. As well as protecting from injury, both airbag systems also drastically reduce the chances of being completely buried in the event of an avalanche.
Thanks to Head on Top technology the danger of suffocation is also drastically reduced and, as a result of the special shape and placement of the airbag, Head on Top technology also ensures the avalanche victim remains as upright as possible.
BCA - Backcountry Access for Everyone with Float
The Float avalanche airbag system from BCA works just like the Snowpulse system in that the airbag is positioned behind the head. Float backpacks are low profile rucksacks with an integrated Airbag System. The Float 22 for example is great for half-day or full day tours, whereas the Float 32, which has a greater capacity, is fantastic for longer trips.
The big difference between these systems and those of ABS and Mammut is the cartridges which can be refilled with a compressor or filled from another pressurized tank.
Backcountry Safety Essentials
Regardless of which Airbag system you decide upon, there are a number of other things you will need for any out-of-bounds adventure. Remember, although an avalanche backpack can save lives, it is not the be all and end all of avalanche safety. You should always have the following items with you in the backcountry:
- Avalanche backpack with airbag system
- Avalanche transceiver
- Mountain know-how