The miraculous survival of a skier caught in a huge avalanche recently proved that having the right safety equipment on your ski trip is vital.
Elyse Saugstad, a professional skier, was out on the slopes with a large group of other experienced skiers near Stevens Pass ski resort, located in the Cascade Mountains north-east of Seattle, USA, when they were caught in a huge avalanche.
Though the area that the group was climbing was considered out of bounds by the resort, the group presumed that their experience and knowledge of the mountain and its weather conditions would be sufficient protection.
However, this was not to be the case as a shelf of snow slid out and began tumbling down the mountain, gathering more snow as it went along.
When Saugstad saw the avalanche coming, she activated her ABS Airbag, which inflated before she was completely buried in snow. Within a short space of time, she was rescued – unharmed. Three others in her group were not so lucky as they lost their lives.
Saugstad said “I was caught by the avalanche and was not completely buried. I believe my partial burial and survival was on account of the inflation of my ABS Avalanche Airbag Backpack.”
An avalanche is a sudden, rapid movement of snow caused by triggers such as fresh rain and snow, earthquakes, explosives, or snowmobilers and skiers.
These can travel at hundreds of miles an hour at a mass of thousands of tonnes, so cause massive devastation to landscape and frequently result in loss of life.
Though most ski slopes and mountainous areas have continuous avalanche monitoring and control services, many experienced and professional skiers choose to indulge in ‘back-country’ skiing, which takes place in uncontrolled areas.
For this reason they are usually equipped with many different types of safety gear. This includes hand shovels and tracking devices.
The ABS Airbag has been in use in Europe for over 25 years but is relatively new to the North American market.
The airbag itself fits into a backpack and is activated via a handle located on the shoulder strap. Once the handle is pulled, a pin pierces the two canisters of nitrogen located in the backpack. This inflates the two airbags within approximately one second. The airbags then take in extra air from the surrounding area to fill the airbags to maximum capacity.
The airbags provide buoyancy to the user, allowing them to stay on top of, or very close to, the surface of the snow when the avalanche hits.
This greatly increases the chances of survival. Asphyxiation due to carbon dioxide build up and the weight of the snow are the main causes of death – so the longer someone is buried in the snow, the lesser their chances of survival are.
ABS Airbags have a 98% survival rate, and as Elyse Saugstad says: “I believe my partial burial and survival was on account of the inflation of my ABS Avalanche Airbag Backpack.”