Ski Airbag Pack: How It Saved Tahoe Skier Elyse Saugstad in Stevens Pass Avalanche

If you’ve been watching the news, or listening to it the past few days, you’ve heard about the deadly Stevens Pass avalanche that took 3 lives on Sunday, and spared Squaw Valley local skier Elyse Saugstad, who credits her survival to an ABS avalanche airbag pack. This accident is yet another reminder for us all to be extremely snow safe. We send our thoughts out to the families of the victims, and are happy to be able to welcome Elyse back home.

With this news breaking all over the nation, we thought we’d give our readers a quick refresher on what an ski airbag pack is. Check out our post from earlier this year on the new Mammut Ride RAS Avalanche Airbag pack to see a video of the avalanche airbag deploying in our shop.

Similar to an airbag in a car, a ski airbag pack is an inflatable safety device. Its function is primarily to keep you afloat on the surface of the slide so you don’t end up buried and asphyxiated. But there are two other bonuses to the system: the airbag deploys around your head and neck and thus offers some protection, and the bag is big and bright, making it very easy for your friends to find you and dig you out of the snow debris.

The technology is nothing new, but has just entered into the US market in the past few years. The idea came about in the 1970s, according to ABS, the company who manufactures the bags, when a German forest ranger caught in an avalanche determined that the game he was carrying on his shoulders kept him afloat. In 1980, Peter Aschauer acquired the patent and founded the company ABS.

ABS pack statistics are impressive: of 267 persons who activated an ABS avalanche airbag, 97 percent survived, and 84 percent were uninjured. Elyse Saugstad is now one more testament to the technology.

For more information, read the first informative article on the avalanche, published on; see Elyse Saugstad interviewed live on MSNBC; read the NPR story with testimony from Powder Magazine senior editor John Stifter, who was there that day; or listen to NPR’s report on the science behind the airbag with Doug Abromeit, former director of and now consultant for the US Forest Service National Avalanche Center.

Update – we’ve taken an up-close look at the ABS Avalanche Airbag System, and brought them into our store too:

We stock the Mammut Ride RAS pack that’s avalanche airbag equipped, and for more avalanche safety packs, check out the Black Diamond Avalung technology. And look for ABS ski airbag packs from The North Face and Dakine at Tahoe Mountain Sports next year.

Mammut Ride R.A.S.
MSRP: $699.95

Black Diamond Anarchist Avalung
MSRP: $279.95

ABS Vario Avalanche Airbag 40 Package
MSRP: $1,234.95

Leave a Comment