How an Avalanche Airbag Works

ABS Bag

The following is “re-reading” for anyone that has ALREADY taken an avalanche course.  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.

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.  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 snow pack 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 float bag 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.

Airbag Video

How to Use Your 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 air bags properly, and secure them into their designated air bag 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 air bags will deploy.  In the avalanche, try and protect your head by making a swimming motion.  Kick your skis off and stay calm.

The ABS® bag is 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.

Enjoy the winter, and be safe.

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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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