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Why WOULDN'T you wear an Airbag when heli or cat skiing?

post #1 of 147
Thread Starter 

So I just got back from Revelstoke, did a day with Selkirk Tangiers. It had snowed pretty heavily the previous few days, so the avalanche danger was moderate to high.

In my group were all guys in their late 30's and 40's, many with kids at home.

 

Selkirk Tangiers offered a ABS snowpulse backpack rental for $34. Compare this to the $875+ they charged for the trip and $100 for each additional run past the set vertical. 

 

Unbelievably, I was the ONLY in my group of 10 men one who rented the backpack. And I even took a little ribbing from the others in the group for it ("pull the chord!" and the like).

 

We got back and the end of the day (I got caught in a couple of slough slides, but nothing too serious), and the news from Stevens Pass came in that same day...4 people caught in the same slide, the only one who survived wore an ABS pack.

 

I don't get it. It can't be a cost thing. These are men with families who likely depend on them. I know my life's worth more than $34.

Is it a macho thing? I really can't figure it out. I know that I wasn't going to rely on a beacon to save me, since by then it's likely too late once you have a bunch of tourists probing the snow for your buried body.

It can't be a weight thing, this pack is very light and I didn't notice it once all day.

 

I was thinking about this today when I read about the Dutch Prince who was declared basically brain dead after being buried in another avalanche.

 

Any thoughts?

post #2 of 147
You could have just asked them...
post #3 of 147

Because I've never been interested in skiing more dangerous high steep challenging slopes that are most avalanche prone like so many advanced skiers tend to be drawn towards.   In other words there are many advanced skiers attracted to steep and deep open bowls and chutes as though that is the ultimate powder attraction.   Of course that is the main diet of those making all manner of skiing movies so no wonder. 

 

As an old guy I've been a strong powder skiing a long time.  And have a lot of days out in battle gear storm skiing.   My own powder skiing preference tends to be slopes with somewhat lower gradients especially in glades and forest where I tend to go top to bottom making short bouncy turns even on long slopes.   Same thing with mogul skiing.  I much more enjoy long moderate gradient bump runs where I can rip down long lines in a more relaxed manner over extra steep run like Chute 75 that require dealing with large forces and are too tiring for this person to descend top to bottom.   With powder I do like short steep drops where one makes a few strong turns in really deep fresh and then can make some less aggressive turns to get more under control.

 

So using an airbag.  Don't need to unless someone dragged me out where I don't really want to be. 

post #4 of 147

Pfft, $34 to use an ABS all day is a icon14.gifYES brainer.  Now, $100 for just one additional run above the vert limit seems a bit extravagant to me.. but then folks also pay well more than that for a cigar so spend as you choose!

post #5 of 147

If they were ribbing you about wearing one, I'd guess maybe they didn't know that much about them. Also, I'd wager that there's a bit more of a lax attitude in terms of avalanche danger and safety on heli/cat trips than on touring trips. On the latter, you're left to your own devices, while the former present a sense of security since you're basically following a guide the whole time. They probably thought it was an unnecessary precaution - like wearing a life jacket while swimming in the ocean.

post #6 of 147

Personally I think the Airbag pros outweigh the cons.  There is one disadvantage with the Airbag that can kill you.  Airbags means you float on top.  Normally this is good.  Unfortunately floating on top means the Avalanche will carry you further down the slope.  If you search enough you can find comparisons on how much further the same dummies in a slide were carried with and without the airbag.   This could mean that with the Airbag you will travel into the trees (shredder) or over  a cliff.    Depending on where you are skiing you may or may not want to pull the rip cord.  At least with an airbag you have that choice.   

 

Another recent advancement is digging techniques.   There are some good papers that improve your digging performance.  If you don't have a lot of  experience in digging you should practice.  This is why digging a snow pit is good practice.  Get to know your shovel just as much as your transceiver and probes. 

 

Good luck and stay safe.

post #7 of 147

I think if they made it "free"(included into the price) but optional, it would push the tide a little the other way.   Maybe even structure it so it's really a $17 hidden cost, if only half the people are taking up the offer.

 

With any cost other then zero, you have the psychology that this is a crutch that you don't need and is not necessary.

When it's free, then you have the psychology that I'm wasteful by not taking them up on the offer.

 

On a boat rental, lifejackets are included, and even though you're a strong swimmer, you may decide to strap it on when you jump in so you can  have a nice float and have your hands free to enjoy a cool one, something you'd never do if you had to pay $1 for the life vest.

post #8 of 147

The logistics of travelling with one and the expense would keep me from buying one at this point. I would certainly rent one if it were available at a reasonable price--especially if I ever get to ski the Alps again.

post #9 of 147
Quote:
Originally Posted by raytseng View Post

I think if they made it "free"(included into the price) but optional, it would push the tide a little the other way.   Maybe even structure it so it's really a $17 hidden cost, if only half the people are taking up the offer.

 

With any cost other then zero, you have the psychology that this is a crutch that you don't need and is not necessary.

When it's free, then you have the psychology that I'm wasteful by not taking them up on the offer.

 

On a boat rental, lifejackets are included, and even though you're a strong swimmer, you may decide to strap it on when you jump in so you can  have a nice float and have your hands free to enjoy a cool one, something you'd never do if you had to pay $1 for the life vest.



The closest analogy I can think of is swimming/diving in shark infested waters.  You might be able to determine if the shark danger is low or high at any given point but when it comes down to it, it's not up to you whether they show up and attack or not.  In that scenario I think I'd want to take more precautions than just making sure people can come to my aid.  I'd certainly come prepared or at least be willing to pay a small price for what I didn't bring with me.

post #10 of 147

Quote:
Originally Posted by catskills View Post

There is one disadvantage with the Airbag that can kill you.  Airbags means you float on top.  Normally this is good.  Unfortunately floating on top means the Avalanche will carry you further down the slope.  If you search enough you can find comparisons on how much further the same dummies in a slide were carried with and without the airbag.


Is this right?  I don't know as much about avalanches as I'd like to, so I'm a little ignorant here.  Are people that get buried usually found at the bottom of the slide path where the bulk of the debris ends up?  Or are they left behind somewhere in the path?  If the former, it seems to me that it'd make no difference whether you were up on top or down in it, you're still going to ride it out to the end either way.

 

post #11 of 147
Quote:
Originally Posted by crgildart View Post

Pfft, $34 to use an ABS all day is a icon14.gifYES brainer.  Now, $100 for just one additional run above the vert limit seems a bit extravagant to me..



IMHO: You want to be paying for the extra runs.  $100 is less than the initial cost of the guaranteed runs and if your getting extra runs, it means it's good. I always get as many runs as possible to  help amortize the additional costs of travel and lodging?

 

I just purchased an airbag this year,  but I haven't traveled with it yet and am not sure if I will. But it will become standard equipment for me in the BC around Aspen and I'll probably even wear it when I hike Highland Bowl.  I always take my gear there now and after a lap or two in the bowl, I usually go by the beacon basin for practice.  I wear my Avilung inbounds on really big days.

 

I remember when people ribbed others for wearing fat "cheater"  skis.

post #12 of 147

I'd like to see some numbers on how many slide incidents happen heli skiing in the interior of BC as well as what the danger level was when it happened. 

 

I can't see any operation dropping you into avalanche terrain with the danger level high. If the risk is low or moderate, you will be.

 

I would imagine accidents at professional operations happen on lower risk days. 

 

 

post #13 of 147

More importantly, any photos or videos from your trip?

post #14 of 147

I could be wrong, but my experience with the human psyche lead me to believe that they probably were making fun of you because they don't have respect for the mountain or the environment they were in. With the guides and money they spent, there was probably a feeling that they were in a safe resort-controlled environment. Due to this, they felt like you were bitching out (like you were wearing an airbag in-bounds) and they are "badasses" shredding the mountain. Cause they don't need that beginner shit to rip the mountain.

 

That having been said, if there was an avalanche you would have had the last laugh. And I think that says all it needs to. I'm just getting into backcountry skiing, and I've bought all the safety gear. A couple hundred for a beacon, a thousand for an air bag (and a small pain in the ass getting canisters when you travel), and a few hundred other for the other assorted gear (shovel, probe, avalung etc), and not looking like a "badass" is worth WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY (times infinity) less than the rest of my life.

 

What they didn't seem to consider was that you were in dangerous avalanche terrain. I should hope that the relative skill and knowledge of the people involved in the Steven's Pass Avalanche should unhinge that mentality from people. To me, and air bag seems far more important than a beacon. The beacon is a passive means of avalanche safety: you wait for other people to rescue you, it only assists in telling them where you are. The airbag is a device that actively helps lift you out of the avalanche which you have complete control over, it is an active means of safety. Far more important in my mind.

 

 

 


Edited by skikiwi - 2/24/12 at 3:56pm
post #15 of 147

Thanks for asking the question, it is one that has bugged me for a while.  Another poster highlighted a good reason why some people don't buy airbags (travel logistics) but in your example no purchase was required nor was any effort required.  

 

I don't get the all the posters who comment on risk level (low, moderate, whatever).   When you go heli skiing you are going into avalanche territory (it was the first thing they told me in our training session).  Yes, the conditions may be ideal and the risk on that day may be as low as it gets but there is still a risk.

post #16 of 147

Reason's not to wear the airbag.

1.  You have no $ left after paying for all those exta vertical runs.

2.  Your wife is already threatening to divorce you for spending all your money on cat skiing.

3.  You have a death wish.

4.  It's one more thing to bring and think about.  The helmet, the bootgloves, the goggles, the mittens, the base layer, the mid layer, the shell, the beacon, the shovel, the STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMEL'S BACK.

5.  All of the above.

post #17 of 147

Chaayya!  Yes....
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by crgildart View Post

Pfft, $34 to use an ABS all day is a icon14.gifYES brainer.  Now, $100 for just one additional run above the vert limit seems a bit extravagant to me.. but then folks also pay well more than that for a cigar so spend as you choose!



its a bet you would lose!  Any cat I have ever been on was extremely avi-conscious and took the greatest precautions. Not laxed what-so-ever.  dead clients are very poor tippers and they usually don't make return trips....



Quote:
Originally Posted by JoeUT View Post

If they were ribbing you about wearing one, I'd guess maybe they didn't know that much about them. Also, I'd wager that there's a bit more of a lax attitude in terms of avalanche danger and safety on heli/cat trips than on touring trips. On the latter, you're left to your own devices, while the former present a sense of security since you're basically following a guide the whole time. They probably thought it was an unnecessary precaution - like wearing a life jacket while swimming in the ocean.



 

post #18 of 147

I found several wise words and cautionary tales in this article.

 

http://www.adn.com/2012/02/19/2326372/snow-enthusiasts-split-on-use.html

post #19 of 147

96% percent of people who were caught in an avalanche with and ABS pack survived.......! what would you do?

post #20 of 147

In Tremper's book, he talks about group dynamics as a leading factor in poor decision making. All the stuff we lump generally into the category of being "fired up", "stoked", "epic snow", he sees as potentially dangerous emotion and attitude.

post #21 of 147
Quote:
Originally Posted by davluri View Post

In Tremper's book, he talks about group dynamics as a leading factor in poor decision making. All the stuff we lump generally into the category of being "fired up", "stoked", "epic snow", he sees as potentially dangerous emotion and attitude.



Make sure you can except a poor decision when it's not yours.

post #22 of 147

Commercial cat/heli skiing is pretty safe.  A quick and dirty calculation of the CMH stats of 11 avalanche deaths in all of their history says your chance of dying in an avalanche on a day with them is about 1 in 100,000.   The annual mortality rate from all causes for a 40 year old is 1 in 1,000.   You're there a week, maybe you've raised your annual mortality rate by 10%.   My personal experience (22 heli days, 48 cat, most of those in Canada) is that the operators are quite conservative about terrain choices and snow stability.  Those super steep open runs you see in the movies don't get skied all that often in Canada.  More in Alaska with its maritime snowpack.

 

That said I attended the International Snow Science Workshop in 2010 and the preliminary stats on the airbags are impressive.  I n Europe they prevented burial if deployed in 97% of 200 incidents.  At that time it was 6 out of 7 in North America.   Airbags won't stop any trauma deaths, but surely would prevent many suffocation deaths.

 

I'll further put on my actuarial hat and comment on exposure to risk.  The typical client going once a year has 6-7 days of that 1 in 100,000 exposure.  The guides have 90-100 days.  Also at  ISSW there was an analysis of a Jackson Hole patroller death.  He was buried under 7 feet of snow in an avalanche visible to 3 other patrollers, who could not dig him out in time.  One result of the ensuing investigation was that JHMR decided to equip all patrollers involved in control work with airbag packs.  I think it's very likely that most professional guides/avy patrollers will be wearing them before too long. 

 

For clients it may take longer.  Some operations, every guest wears a provided pack with shovel and probe.  Most have a couple of guest packs that rotate among the clients.  Eagle Pass Heli, where I skied a day in 2010, provided all clients with SnowPulse airbag packs.  Some places, like the OP's experience, offer the airbag packs for a daily rental fee.

post #23 of 147

Let's ask the question in a different formats.

 

How long did it take to have brakes on bindings vs safety straps?

Breakaway wrist straps?

Carry Shovels?

Carry Rescue Poles?

Carry Beacons?

Helmets?  I see very few skiers without helmets these days.

 

As the technologies progress, there is an initial resistance to adapt, cost, fears, lack of understanding.  Once that is overcome, the adaption starts, costs drop, adaptation becomes almost universal, costs drop even more.

 

The wise are generally the first on the band wagon as they fully see the benefits over the risks.

 

We can't prevent all of the injuries/deaths, but a little prevention can sure stop the needless ones.

 

My favorite quote of all times "Lies, Lies and damn statistics!" ......Depending on how you spin it I can give you what ever answer you want as the results are only as pure as the question asked, and as we as humans ask the questions the answers are always somewhat suspect.

 

One of the statement I use with my kids is:

 

 Are you Crazy or are you stupid?

 

Crazy you know you are pushing the limit to the next level and have taken all foreseeable precautions, Stupid is not knowing where those limits are, and not taking the precautions.

 

I'd rather be called Crazy.

 

 

post #24 of 147

The fact I think is out of whack is that when CMH sets up the number of skier trips for their calculations and ratios, in the article I read, they are going back like 30 + years I believe. My question with that is this: thirty plus years ago, the types of lines they skied were far tamer than in the last ten years. just saying. 
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony Crocker View Post

Commercial cat/heli skiing is pretty safe.  A quick and dirty calculation of the CMH stats of 11 avalanche deaths in all of their history says your chance of dying in an avalanche on a day with them is about 1 in 100,000.   The annual mortality rate from all causes for a 40 year old is 1 in 1,000.   You're there a week, maybe you've raised your annual mortality rate by 10%.   My personal experience (22 heli days, 48 cat, most of those in Canada) is that the operators are quite conservative about terrain choices and snow stability.  Those super steep open runs you see in the movies don't get skied all that often in Canada.  More in Alaska with its maritime snowpack.

 

That said I attended the International Snow Science Workshop in 2010 and the preliminary stats on the airbags are impressive.  I n Europe they prevented burial if deployed in 97% of 200 incidents.  At that time it was 6 out of 7 in North America.   Airbags won't stop any trauma deaths, but surely would prevent many suffocation deaths.

 

I'll further put on my actuarial hat and comment on exposure to risk.  The typical client going once a year has 6-7 days of that 1 in 100,000 exposure.  The guides have 90-100 days.  Also at  ISSW there was an analysis of a Jackson Hole patroller death.  He was buried under 7 feet of snow in an avalanche visible to 3 other patrollers, who could not dig him out in time.  One result of the ensuing investigation was that JHMR decided to equip all patrollers involved in control work with airbag packs.  I think it's very likely that most professional guides/avy patrollers will be wearing them before too long. 

 

For clients it may take longer.  Some operations, every guest wears a provided pack with shovel and probe.  Most have a couple of guest packs that rotate among the clients.  Eagle Pass Heli, where I skied a day in 2010, provided all clients with SnowPulse airbag packs.  Some places, like the OP's experience, offer the airbag packs for a daily rental fee.



 

post #25 of 147
Quote:
Originally Posted by Finndog View Post

Chaayya!  Yes....
 



its a bet you would lose!  Any cat I have ever been on was extremely avi-conscious and took the greatest precautions. Not laxed what-so-ever.  dead clients are very poor tippers and they usually don't make return trips....



 


Sounds like you agree with me and we'd both win the bet. Thought it was clear in the context, but I can see how that statement itself was open to misinterpretation. I'm saying that clients are not as avalanche conscious for the very fact you state: They're essentially under someone else's care. More avi danger than a resort, but not like going out there on your own, either. I doubt much of anyone wears an airbag at a resort, and a cat ski operation can be viewed somewhere in between a controlled resort environment and plain, wild backcountry.

 

If they thought the cat operator wasn't taking any and every precaution, I'd think they'd be more likely to pop the 34 bucks on an airbag. But when you expect the company you're paying to provide a safe experience, then an airbag might seem like a over-caution.

 

post #26 of 147
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony Crocker View Post

Commercial cat/heli skiing is pretty safe.  A quick and dirty calculation of the CMH stats of 11 avalanche deaths in all of their history says your chance of dying in an avalanche on a day with them is about 1 in 100,000.   The annual mortality rate from all causes for a 40 year old is 1 in 1,000.   You're there a week, maybe you've raised your annual mortality rate by 10%.   My personal experience (22 heli days, 48 cat, most of those in Canada) is that the operators are quite conservative about terrain choices and snow stability.  Those super steep open runs you see in the movies don't get skied all that often in Canada.  More in Alaska with its maritime snowpack.

 

That said I attended the International Snow Science Workshop in 2010 and the preliminary stats on the airbags are impressive.  I n Europe they prevented burial if deployed in 97% of 200 incidents.  At that time it was 6 out of 7 in North America.   Airbags won't stop any trauma deaths, but surely would prevent many suffocation deaths.

 

I'll further put on my actuarial hat and comment on exposure to risk.  The typical client going once a year has 6-7 days of that 1 in 100,000 exposure.  The guides have 90-100 days.  Also at  ISSW there was an analysis of a Jackson Hole patroller death.  He was buried under 7 feet of snow in an avalanche visible to 3 other patrollers, who could not dig him out in time.  One result of the ensuing investigation was that JHMR decided to equip all patrollers involved in control work with airbag packs.  I think it's very likely that most professional guides/avy patrollers will be wearing them before too long. 

 

For clients it may take longer.  Some operations, every guest wears a provided pack with shovel and probe.  Most have a couple of guest packs that rotate among the clients.  Eagle Pass Heli, where I skied a day in 2010, provided all clients with SnowPulse airbag packs.  Some places, like the OP's experience, offer the airbag packs for a daily rental fee.

 

Aren't some airbags designed to prevent trauma? I know the Snowpulse one I saw several years ago basically inflates around both sides of the head to provide protection. Wonder if there's any statistics on how effective that type of design is.

 

Interesting point on the guides wearing the packs. I think that if a client sees his guide - who's presumably a lot more knowledgeable about avalanche safety and the specific terrain - wearing one, he'd be more inclined to do the same.

 

That's actually another reason for the OP: If the guide doesn't deem it necessary to wear one for free (don't know if that was the case or not), clients probably aren't all that motivated to pay for it.
 

 

post #27 of 147

I edited your post in quotes slightly...
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by oldschoolskier View Post

Let's ask the question in a different formats.

 

1. How long did it take to have brakes on bindings vs safety straps?

2. Breakaway wrist straps?

3. Carry Shovels?

4. Carry Rescue Poles?

5. Carry Beacons?

6. Helmets?  I see very few skiers without helmets these days.

 

7. ABS Pack

 

As the technologies progress, there is an initial resistance to adapt, cost, fears, lack of understanding.  Once that is overcome, the adaption starts, costs drop, adaptation becomes almost universal, costs drop even more.

 

The wise are generally the first on the band wagon as they fully see the benefits over the risks.

 

We can't prevent all of the injuries/deaths, but a little prevention can sure stop the needless ones.

 

 

Next logical step in the progression... perhaps?

 

How cool would THIS be?

 

8. AVALANCHE ESCAPE JET PACK!

 

jetpacks-0707-de.jpg

 

 

TAM ROCKET BELT MODEL JET PACK H202
More than 60 mph TOP SPEED 70 mph
30 seconds FLIGHT TIME 33 seconds
$250,000 PRICE $155,000


Read more: Jetpacks For Sale - Buy a Jet Pack - Popular Mechanics 

post #28 of 147

I think lots of people have never experienced an avalanche in person or been close to one, or have had to dig someone out, and have no idea of powerful and terrifying they are.

post #29 of 147
Quote:
Originally Posted by lloyd braun View Post

96% percent of people who were caught in an avalanche with and ABS pack survived.......! what would you do?



"Air bags improve your chance of survival, but not nearly at the level most people think," said Dale Atkins, president of the American Avalanche Association, who worked 20 years as a forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and serves as a training chief for avalanche-safety company RECCO.

With only a handful of North American incidents involving air bags that resulted in nary an injury, Atkins said "the perception of air bags is misshapen."

 

Using European -- mostly Swiss -- data of avalanche accidents involving air bags, which have been used across the pond for more than 25 years, Atkins paints a much less rosy picture of the inflatable tools.  Based on those statistics, about three in 100 people equipped with air bags survive an avalanche."

 

http://www.adn.com/2012/02/19/2326372/snow-enthusiasts-split-on-use.html

post #30 of 147
Quote:
Originally Posted by kelly001 View Post

"Air bags improve your chance of survival, but not nearly at the level most people think," said Dale Atkins, president of the American Avalanche Association, who worked 20 years as a forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and serves as a training chief for avalanche-safety company RECCO.

With only a handful of North American incidents involving air bags that resulted in nary an injury, Atkins said "the perception of air bags is misshapen."

 

Using European -- mostly Swiss -- data of avalanche accidents involving air bags, which have been used across the pond for more than 25 years, Atkins paints a much less rosy picture of the inflatable tools.  Based on those statistics, about three in 100 people equipped with air bags survive an avalanche."

 

http://www.adn.com/2012/02/19/2326372/snow-enthusiasts-split-on-use.html


That 3 out of 100 includes many cases of airbag not deploying at all, either deu to human error or device defect. I can't quite find it, but I think I recall a much more meaningful number when airbags were DEPLOYED!
 

 

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