Avalanche airbags, designed to prevent burial in an avalanche by providing extra buoyancy, aren’t new but until now skiers have had to activate the bag themselves. If they don’t realise in time they have set of an avalanche it may be too late for the airbag to be of use, resulting in burial and often, death. ABS has introduced a world-first - a remote, networked electronic system which allows airbag inflation to be triggered by other members of a skiing party, allowing them to help each other in an emergency. The new wireless system can be retrofitted to old-style backpacks with double airbags.
The electronic system allows specific groups to be defined. Group members simply need to touch all their trigger handles together to become a unit with either one person, such as a ski instructor (the ‘master’) able to trigger the others’ airbags, or all members of the group designated masters, able to assist each other in the event of a slab avalanche. In the new system, a pyrotechnic element is used to ignite the gas cartridge and fill the dual airbags.
The activation signal currently has a range of between 350 and 500 meters, but this distance can be extended, given that every group member effectively acts as a relay station – as each trigger handle passes on the signal.
An avalanche consists of individual rotating snow crystals, with the smaller crystals forcing the larger crystals upward. The avalanche also forces the skier upward, but due to greater density of the skier – and slower rotation of the snow crystals at the surface - the skier sinks back down and is buried as the avalanche tapers out.
To retain buoyancy skiers need to have a volume at least equal to that of the avalanche, increasing volume by a factor of 1.5 of their body weight. The 170 additional liters of the inflated ABS airbags offer the necessary buoyancy to stay on top of an avalanche.
As the ABS airbag is attached to a backpack it allows unobstructed vision and freedom of movement, even inflated, giving the best chance of escape - which is the aim - or digging your way out of the snow, if partially buried.
Statistics from the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow Science and Avalanche Research Davos/Switzerland show that approximately 98 % of all avalanche victims who activated their ABS-avalanche airbag survive the avalanche almost unharmed.
The bags are reusable and the steel or lightweight carbon cartridges can be refilled. ABS will replace cartridges and handles free of charge where they have been used in an emergency situation.