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Outdoor Retailer: Avalanche Airbags Expand

by Dave MacLeay
January 26, 2011

Only a few years ago avalanche airbags were unavailable in the United States, and until now it’s been a limited market. But in 2011, the options available to backcountry skiers, riders, and others venturing into avalanche terrain will expand.

Avalanche airbag stalwarts ABS, Backcountry Access, and Snowpulse will each introduce new and improved packs, and will find themselves competing with new entries from Mammut, Mystery Ranch, and Arva.

We saw them all at Outdoor Retailer; here are the highlights:

Snowpulse's Removable Airbag System.

Snowpulse now offers two distinct lines of airbags. Where the company’s existing “Head on Top” design surrounds the user’s head with an airbag that wraps from both shoulder straps and around the back of the head, the new Removable Airbag System (R.A.S.) design is a single bag that deploys from the top of the pack, similar to Backcountry Access’s Float airbags.

This simpler design allows for a modular system: a single, compact unit can be easily swapped from one Snowpulse pack to another.

The R.A.S. system weighs in at 2.8 kg with the compressed-air cylinder and will be available in the Xtrem 22 ($899) and Pro 35 ($925) packs. For 2011 Snowpulse is also introducing the ProTech Vest for sidecountry and snowmobile use.

photo: Mammut Ride Airbag R.A.S.
Mammut's 30-liter Ride Airbag R.A.S.

Mammut is taking advantage of Snowpulse’s R.A.S. design, licensing the system for use in its Ride Airbag R.A.S. pack.

Development was kept tightly under wraps, and even Mammut sales reps didn’t find out about the new pack until the day before it was unveiled at Outdoor Retailer.

The Ride Airbag R.A.S. is based on Mammut’s Nirvana Ride design, and will be available in 1,300 cu in (22 L) and 1,800 cu in (30 L) capacities, priced at $775, plus $150 for the air cylinder.

Mammut plans to expand the line with additional packs in 2012.

photo: Mystery Ranch Blackjack
Mystery Ranch Blackjack designer Kyle Christenson shows off his creation.

Mystery Ranch’s first foray into avalanche airbags is the Blackjack. As with Mammut, Mystery Ranch has focused on pack design, licensing the airbag system itself from the makers of Avi Vest.

The Blackjack was designed specifically for snow pros, driven largely by feedback gathered from professionals at the International Snow Science Workshop. The Blackjack is designed to insulate the metal components of the airbag system from the contents of the pack, preventing potentially dangerous static electricity buildup — a very real concern for patrollers who may be carrying explosive charges for avalanche control work. The airbag system is housed in the top lid of the pack, with the compressed-air cylinder housed in the main compartment.

The Blackjack features fiberglass stays, both A-frame and diagonal ski carry options, and a 2,600 cu in (43 L) capacity.

photo: Arva X-Over 28
Arva's X-Over 28, ABS-compatible pack.

Arva, a 25-year-old French snow-safety company trying to gain a toehold in the North America market, will be introducing a line of packs that are compatible with ABS’s Vario system.

The Arva X-Over 18  and X-Over 28 packs will zip onto any ABS Vario base unit, and come with a base unit that does not have an airbag. This will allow ABS users to get some mileage out of their Arva or ABS packs in situations where avalanches are not a concern.

At ABS, the 2011 pack line will change little externally, but the company has made several internal changes. The airbag itself is made of a new silicone-impregnated fabric. According to ABS’s Steve Wagner, it is ten times more tear-resistant than the previous material, and deploys faster in cold weather because of reduced friction.

The 2011 ABS airbag system is also 2.5 oz (70 g) lighter than the previous version, and sits closer to the user’s back, for a more balanced center of gravity.

Backcountry Access is adding new sizes to its Float line. The sidecountry-focused Float 18 ($685) and guide-inspired Float 36 will round out BCA's line of avalanche airbags. Both new packs will feature the same technology as the existing Float 30.

Backcountry Access is also encouraging its dealers to offer compressed air recharging in their shops, offering airbag users an alternative to dive and paintball shops for filling their cylinders.