ABS Avalanche Airbags – the start of the ski airbag revolution

Avalanche Airbags have been proving themselves again and again this winter — with serious saves in the backcountry. But while ski airbags — devices intended to keep you on top of, not buried under, avalanches — are new to North America, ABS Avalanche Airbags has been perfecting these life-saving devices for 25 years in Europe.

A few weeks ago it was an ABS pack that saved Tahoe skier Elyse Saugstad in a deadly slide at Stevens Pass in Washington, but that’s just the latest number in ABS’s success story, which tallies an impressive 97 percent survival rate for users of its product.

Here’s a quick video, where we learned how the ABS Avalanche Airbag system works at our shop:

We also carry and have reviewed the Mammut Ride R.A.S. Avalanche Airbag, which offers an entry-level option for those looking at ski airbags, but the ABS system offers a lot of value for the price premium, not the least of which is their unimpeachable track record.

Over the years, 97 percent of avalanche victims who have activated an ABS airbag have survived. 87 percent were nearly unharmed. These numbers are huge.

How do they do it? ABS Avalanche Airbags use two airbags instead of one, deploying out the sides of the pack, as seen in the video above. This creates redundancy, in case you’re drug by the slide over rocks or through trees. If one pops (pretty tough to do, because the fabric comes from the same people who make Zodiac boats) there’s still another one to help keep you afloat.

ABS found that 150 liters of volume in the airbags will float most users, so they opted for 170 liters for even better results. The twin airbags also have the advantage of not obstructing your vision or movement during a slide.

We mentioned the extremely tough fabric used in the airbag, but they take many other steps to ensure the pack is as fool proof as possible — from metal buckles to keep the pack on your back to a unique triggering system less likely to fail. Instead of pulling a metal cord that can experience friction from corrosion, the handle is actually a small charge that drives the needle through the burst disc of the canister, releasing the gas to fill the airbags. That takes a much shorter, lighter pull then a mechanical trigger. The canister itself is filled with nitrogen instead of compressed dry air like the Mammut Pulse system or others’ CO2 cartridges because nitrogen performs better in a wider range of temperatures and altitudes (think of using a C02 canister on your bike tire and seeing it frosting and slowing).

While the Mammut system offers the convenience of being refilled at any paintball or SCUBA shop, ABS wants both the tank and the trigger back with each use for full inspection, a process made easier through our Activation Unit Exchange Program.

And beyond the ski airbag system itself, the ABS Vario modular pack system is also really well thought out. Instead of buying one avalanche airbag backpack, and being stuck with that size pack anytime you want to go out into the backcountry, the ABS Vario system works with a Vario Base Unit, which includes the harness of the pack and the airbags, and various zip-on Vario Ski Packs, available here in a 25 Liter and a 40 Liter size. That way you can zip on the 25 for a quick dawn patrol, or the 40 for a longer trip, even a overnighter in a hut.

We know there’s a lot to learn about ABS and other avalanche airbags, so don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions — we’ve been immersed in this stuff this winter. Shoot an email to info@tahoemountainsports.com, call us at 866-891-9177, comment on this post, or hit us up on our Facebook page. We’re here to help!

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