Will avalanche airbags become mandatory for patrollers?

At the SIA Snow Show in Denver, avalanche airbags were a hot topic of conversation among backcountry skiers and snowboarders. SNEWS has the details.

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.

--Eugene Buchanan

On Oct. 6, 2010, veteran journalist Peter Kray joined the SNEWS team and is now editor of the new SNEWS WinterSports channel. We trust you are enjoying the full offering of WinterSports news. Be sure to email your friends and let them know the best WinterSports news has arrived -- just in time for the winter season. Got WinterSports news? Send your WinterSports news to Kray at pkray@snewsnet.com. Subscribers can also post WinterSports news releases directly to the SNEWS website. Email us at snewsbox@snewsnet.com to learn about posting your own news releases, or for any other questions or comments. We love to hear from our readers!



Avalanche airbags blow up winter safety market

Avalanche beacons, shovels and probes have been the go-to trio of winter safety products when heading into the backcountry. But as more enthusiasts and weekend warriors venture into avalanche-prone areas — some just steps from the resorts — manufacturers are responding with a ...read more


Avalanche airbags gain national media spotlight

National media outlets have been abuzz this week over avalanche airbags after an avalanche over President’s Day weekend killed three skiers in Washington, sparing a fourth who credited the device for saving her life. From CNN and NPR to NBC and USA Today, avalanche airbags and ...read more

Avalanche beacon durability questioned

Following the early February death of an experienced skier (skiing out of bounds in a very dangerous area known as avalanche-prone by locals), an article triggered a discussion on-line and via email around the country about the durability of avalanche beacons. In short, Tom ...read more