How an Avalanche Backpack Works

Ortovox Avalanche Airbag - M.A.S.S. Avalanche Safety System

Before we get started on how to use an avalanche airbag, you need to make sure you know how to use your own airbags features first.

How Does an Avalanche Airbag Work?

The most recent advancement in avalanche safety is the float bag.  In contrary to its name, the bag doesn’t actually float you. It simply carries you to the surface because you become a larger particle.  Think of trail-mix, the tiny sunflower seeds sink to the bottom while the larger pretzels stay towards the top of the bag.


Avalanche Airbag Statistics

It is simple physics, is incredibly simple to use, and the survival rate is 97%.

Okay so your survival rate is high but it is still a 50/50 chance.  If you’re a recreational backcountry skier then you should almost never have to deploy your float bag.  Every precaution should be taken before dropping into the line of your dreams, and if you can’t confidently access the snowpack then you should be with someone who can.  There is nothing wrong with skinning for all day only to turn back because of sketchy snow.  Make the line of your dreams the line of your life.

If you ski more days in the backcountry than at lift service then you should have a float bag.  In my experience, the best avalanche backpack is the ABS® bag.  The company has been researching and developing the system since 1980.  The product is simple and reliable.   There a few things to know before just sending into powder heaven but basically make sure your system is operational and that you know how to use it.

How to Use an Avalanche Airbag

  1. Before you go check for any visual abrasion on the bag, shoulder straps, airbag fastening straps, waist straps, buckles, and zippers.
  2. Unfold and refold the two airbags properly, and secure them into their designated airbag pockets.
  3. Check the release valve in the back, press the red button until it snaps back to its initial position each time.
  4. Make sure the cartridge piercing unit is clean.
  5. The activation handle should be lubed and easily accessible.
  6. The cartridge should be tightly screwed into the piercing unit and secured properly into the pack.

In the event of an avalanche, activation is the key to survival. The 97% survival rating comes from early detection and activation. As soon as a slide starts pull the high visibility pneumatic pull and try to escape.  Whether you’re still on your feet, falling, or being pummeled by snow the airbags will deploy.  In the avalanche, try and protect your head by making a swimming motion.  Kick your skis off and stay calm.

Airbags are a preventative tool. It has your back but it certainly doesn’t secure your survival.  This is your life we’re talking about.  It is nice having the security of survival tools but in the end, you’re the only one in control of living to see tomorrow. Hopefully, this article shed some light on how avalanche airbags work.   It’s another tool to consider for recreating in the backcountry.

Enjoy the winter, and be safe.

Related Articles:

  1. When to retire your old Avalanche Beacon?
  2. Best Avalanche Beacons

About the Author

Nicholas Sirianno
Nick studied English Literature at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. There he spent more time on the river than on campus.

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