In the mid 1990’s Black Diamond Equipment began developing a device that allowed buried avalanche victims to breathe. The result was what we know today as the AvaLung. The idea was genius, a simple snorkel where the inhale and exhale terminals are completely separate. The goal was to stop carbon dioxide condensation from freezing the snow around a buried victim’s face thus stopping the flow of oxygen through the snow. The AvaLung allows a buried victim to breathe in through a tube and exhales out through the same tube that exhausts away from the victim’s face. Learn how to use an AvaLung, it may one day save your life.
The product worked! It lengthened the time a conscious buried victim could breathe by 100%. But, in no way is the AvaLung a confidence builder to go boosting into any snowy terrain. Most avalanche deaths occur from, broken bones, blood loss, and head trauma. The violence of an avalanche usually carries victims scrambling, pinwheeling, and flopping through boulder fields, trees, over cliffs, and into deep chasms. If you’re equipped with an Avalung your chances of survival outweigh the chances of someone without an Avalung but it all depends on proper usage.
It sounds simple, avalanche slides, victim place mouthpiece in mouth, and breaths until shoveled out by a rescue team. If every avalanche went like this then there would be no need to worry as much as we do. However, when avalanches do occur, when that perfect powder day splits underneath your feet and sends you clawing through the snow as it pummels you deeper and deeper into its belly, sometimes the last thing you can physically do is reach for a mouthpiece located inches from your mouth.
So how do you maximize your chances of survival when using the AvaLung.
1. First off you must wear the device on the outside of all your layers. The porous intake must be clear of clothing as to maximize breathing ability. This often presents a problem of practicality because as you change layers you always have to remove and then replace the AvaLung. The plus is that it is easier than changing suspenders and of course safety always trumps convenience.
2. Secondly, you have to decide whether you can always keep the mouthpiece in your mouth or not. In the event of an avalanche, and depending on your situation it can sometimes be impossible to free your hands up enough to place the mouthpiece in your mouth. Experts who use AvaLung always keep their mouthpiece in. Whether you’re skiing, snowboarding, on a snowmobile, or hiking just take the precaution and use the AvaLung wisely. The mouthpiece is comfortable and worth the “Scuba Steve” look if it is going to potentially save your life.
Like all safety equipment, the AvaLung is simply a preventative caution. It should be used alongside all other pieces of safety equipment—helmet, proper layers, avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe. The AvaLung doesn’t secure survival so if you’re heading into hazardous avalanche terrain be sure to use judgment, equip yourself with the proper working safety gear, and always seek expert advice.