While avalanche airbag sales are skyrocketing among consumers, they might soon get an additional burst of air from resorts for liability reasons.
“A few proactive ski patrols have started using them on their own accord in the states this year,” Backcountry Access sales director Steve Christie told SNEWS at the SIA Snow Show in Denver, citing usage at resorts like Jackson Hole and Kirkwood. “But I’m sure the liability issue of not having them has been brought up.”
The issue stems from a recent lawsuit in France between a resort and the family of a ski patroller killed in an avalanche. The resort was found negligent of not providing an airbag for the patroller. And Canada’s Work Safe B.C. recently recommended their use for snowsports professionals exposed to avalanche terrain.
Whenever an in-bounds avalanche fatality occurs at a resort, such as this fall’s death of Wolf Creek ski patrol director Scott Kay and last season’s death of Mark “Big Wally” Wolling at Jackson Hole, OSHA also comes calling. While the organization hasn’t issued any standards yet regarding airbag use, that may soon change. “They’ve definitely investigated some resorts,” said BCA vice president Bruce Edgerly. “A lot of resorts are starting to think proactively in event of a worst-case scenario. If their employees are equipped with an airbag, it’s less likely they’d be found negligent in the event of an accident.”
While BCA was the only airbag company exhibiting at the show -- Germany’s ABS and Switzerland’s Snow Pulse opted not to attend -- The North Face has partnered with ABS to develop an airbag for its Patrol pack, to be released in 2012 (an airbag saved the life of The North Face athlete Xavier de Le Rue in 2008). BCA’s airbag sales, meanwhile, are soaring, up 107 percent over projections, thanks to the use of easily refillable compressed-air cartridges. Two new models join its Float 30 for 2011/12: the petite Float 18 and larger Float 36.
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