Backcountry safety gear continues on the path to enlightenment.
Practice Makes Perfect
Traveling in the backcountry requires education and, most importantly, experience—through courses, mentorship, and practice. Skiers can take multiple classes, but if they can’t properly execute a rescue or use safe travel techniques, they become a liability to themselves, their party, and anyone nearby.
According to a Canadian study of 106 avalanches involving airbag users, one in eight did not activate his or her airbag. Ortovox addressed this issue by allowing Avabag users to practice as much as they want—without an installed cartridge—so they can be ready in a real-life scenario. Chris Hrenko, spokesperson for Ortovox, explains, “The trigger handle accessibility and unlimited training aspect are key with this pack.”
The surge in backcountry safety is “driven both by the continued popularity of ski-mo [race-inspired ski mountaineering] and the growth of the skier segment that wants to tour, not from a trailhead, but from the resort gates,” says Dave Furman, Mammut’s North American hardgoods manager.
Luckily, backcountry safety gear has become so advanced that the path to proficiency is faster. Advanced gear—with practice—often speeds the time to finding a buried victim, meaning skiers should perfect their probing and shoveling techniques as a way to quickly rescue avy victims.
Avalanche Airbags Get Lean
Let’s face it: Avalanche airbags and their canisters are heavy. Last season, battery-powered fan bags received designer attention, with refinements from Black Diamond and the introduction of Arc’teryx’s Voltair. While still on the heavy side, both models eased the travel and practice burdens inherent with air-driven bags. Yet many skiers haven’t bought into fan systems due to their steep price tags.
For 2017/18, compressed air canister bags get a makeover. Ortovox developed a more compact venturi (the small mechanical element that powers the inflation) and focused on shaving ounces through welded pack construction. Backcountry Access lights up with a different approach. “We achieved the weight reduction by decreasing the size of the cylinder and stashing it inside the airbag compartment,” says Bruce Edgerly, VP of marketing and global sales. “This opens up more free space inside the packbag.”
The Ortovox 30L Avabag ($720) weighs just 4 pounds 2 ounces, which is more than two pounds lighter than the previous category-leading airbag pack. How did Ortovox do it? By using a smaller venturi and welding pack seams rather than sewing them. Another key feature: unlimited dry-fire training without the cartridge.
The G3 Scala LT ($219-230) takes the scaled polyurethane tip from its older sister, the Scala skin, and trims the width. It improves packability, is engineered to stop snow from sneaking under the skin, and decreases the weight by a couple of ounces.
The Backcountry Access Float 17 pack ($TBD) weighs 5 pounds 10 ounces, including the engine and a full cylinder. BCA focused on decreasing the size of the cylinder, increasing the canister pressure to 3,000 psi, and making the venturi (inflation mechanism) more efficient.
The Mammut BarryvoxS ($490) is an easy-handling beacon in a small package. The Auto Guidance and Smart Search features prohibit signal overlap from other beacons during a multiple burial scenario and optimize the fine search process in a rescue.
Part backcountry beacon, part probe: The PIEPS iProbe II–300 ($215) has an integrated receiver that can detect an active signal from any standard beacon without a clear strike. For those who have probed in a circle (the standard protocol for a rescue), this is a game changer.
The new D-Grip Kodiak Shovel ($90) from Ortovox packs down easily and is a workhouse when moving snow. The 90-degree clearing function—it resembles a garden hoe—is useful when digging a snow pit. The reverse side of the shovel blade is flat, aiding in column test snow-stability assessments and also has boreholes to help build a rescue sled.
This article was originally published on p. 24 of the Demo Day issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily Winter Market 2017.