Monday, October 26, 2009

Avalanche-pack face-off! Conclusion

First and foremost I want to thank ABS Systems, BCA and Snowpulse for their invaluable collaboration and input. I am leaving this assignment with the definitive impression that we are here dealing with really high caliber, professional and creative outfits. Furthermore let’s recognize that these are critically important vendors and a force for good, their products will undoubtedly save a lot of lives in the backcountry.

Before we get into comparing the features, strengths and potential weaknesses of these products let me reiterate one inescapable piece of data:

Buried avalanche victim:          52.0% mortality
Avalanche victim ends on top:   4.2% mortality

Show this to your spouses and, assuming you are in a resonably good relationship, they are probably going to MAKE you buy one, better yet; put it on your X-mas list.

After parsing through the data and most of the research available, I am absolutely convinced that this is the greatest advance in avy safety gear since Dr. John Lawton invented the first viable avalanche beacon in 1968. In fact these bags will save a lot more lives than the beacon. Having said that, there is no way these bags should replace beacon, shovel and probe, they need to be ADDED to these.

The most frequent argument against these is typically the high price. Understanding that the avy bags offer an avalanche victim a survival rate of 98.3% (inflated bags), who out there is going to make the case that their life is worth less than $500 – $1,000? Whoever says that, is telling us that they’d rather be dead with $500 – $1,000 more at the bank than stay alive with $500 – $1,000 less on the account… Something to think about. Or, of course, we yet again are facing the gambler’s gambit; avalanches happen to others, well if you ski the Wasatch with its notoriously unstable snowpack; think again, it’s not if, it’s when.

Alright, having gotten the preaching out of the way, below please find a comparative so you can decide not if, but which one to buy.


*) In the Vario line you buy the base unit and you can then attach any of the Vario pack sizes to that base unit. The base unit is also compatible with some of the Millet back packs.
1) You buy one air bag system and can use it with more than one back pack size.
2) You launch by pulling a handle when you think you are in trouble.
3) Your ski buddy has a remote control so he can launch the airbag when you are going down.

The ABS System Escape and Vario product lines are in the process of being re-priced in the US. As soon as I get those prices, I will communicate them in an updated table.

To order above products click on respective vendor:

ABS Systems:                         Escape & Vario (Exclusive distributor is Klim USA, use dealer locator)
Backcountry Access (BCA):      Float 30   (available from Dec. 15 use the contact info on the site)
Snowpulse:                             Life Bag   (Canadian distributor use tel. number on site)

Now, just so everything is real clear, I have no commercial, editorial or any other interest in you buying this stuff. No deals, underhanded or otherwiswe, nor commission nor anything at all is involved here for me nor the Whippet nor any other organization I am linked to. That is how we keep our complete editorial freedom from any vendor. Having said that, if you ski with any sort of regularity in the Wasatch backcountry you should really get one of these, I know I am.


  1. Thanks Pierre - excellent comparison!! At $500, the BCA looks pretty good.

  2. Yeah, I agree and although it is not in and by itself "proven" it does come to us from a proven company.