Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chugach Powder Guides partners with Mammut to issue avalanche air bags

When Chugach Powder Guides opens for the 2013 season in Alaska, the veteran heli-ski operator will become one of the first in the United States to provide avalanche air bags to guests free of charge.

Mammut’s Rocker R.A.S. (Removable Airbag System) 18 will become part of the company’s standard issue safety gear provided to each heli-skier. The air bag system is proven to increase survival rates during an avalanche.

“It’s like wearing a seatbelt. If you have one, why wouldn’t you wear it?” said Chris Owens, Chugach Powder Guides’ brand manager. “We believe wearing air bags will become not just optional, but standard practice across our industry.”

While many heli-ski operators give clients an opportunity to rent an air bag system, Chugach Powder Guides partnered with Mammut Sports Group to supply the gear to guests.

Mammut’s Rocker R.A.S. 18 will be added to the Mammut Pulse Barryvox avalanche transceiver heli-skiers already receive. Guides will wear Mammut’s Pro R.A.S. 35 in addition to wearing an avalanche transceiver and carrying a shovel and probe.

“This isn’t about scaring people. This is about taking every possible step and using all tools available to keep our guests safe while they’re having the time of their lives skiing the backcountry,” Owens said.

Mammut’s product design team spent several days in Alaska last season with Chugach Powder Guides’ staff, taking their comments on the air bag product line and making notes on how to improve it.

“Their guides’ feedback was integral to how we developed these packs and air bags,” said Gribbin Loring, Mammut’s marketing services coordinator. “They are out there teaching avalanche training every day and driving backcountry safety messages to the general public. This represents a big step for Chugach Powder Guides to outfit clients with these air bags.”

Mammut first integrated the Removable Airbag System, developed by the Swiss company Snowpulse SA, in its snow backpacks in 2011.

“We’re 100 percent committed to our guests’ safety,” said Geoff Gross, Chugach Powder Guides operations manager. “We will continue to use the best safety options utilizing the most up-to-date technology to enhance our clients’ experience.”

Founded in 1997, Chugach Powder Guides is one of the most established and respected heli-ski operators in Alaska with headquarters in Girdwood at Alyeska Resort and operations in Seward and the Tordrillo Mountains. Chugach Powder Guides offers a variety of heli-skiing and snowcat skiing adventures ranging from one week to one day. The company operates a fleet of A-Star helicopters ensuring small groups on heli-ski adventures. Members of the Heli-Ski U.S. Association, Chugach Powder Guides prides itself on operating by the highest safety standards in the industry and offering a high-level of personal service to guests. More information about Chugach Powder Guides and heli-ski packages is available by visiting CPG's website

Monday, November 5, 2012

New Avalanche Airbag Research 

I have just completed an Autumn tour which included the ISSW and many Snow and Avalanche Workshops including the Northern Rockies SAW in Whitefish Montana, CSAW in Leadville, and USAW in Salt Lake.

First of all, a big thank you to Dave Hamre, Ted Steiner, Ethan Green, and Craig Gordon (among others) for their tremendous efforts to put on these workshops. They are excellent opportunities to stay connected to your snow and avalanche community and sharpen your avalanche senses before the coming winter.

There were some presenters this season whose research reflected directly upon Mammut's snow and avalanche products. Notably, Pascal Haegeli presented his research into the survival statistics of airbags. His paper can be found here:

ABS, a manufacturer of avalanche airbags, has often stated that avalanche victims who employ an airbag have a "97% survival rate." Well, we all know that statistics can be read in many ways. Pascal wanted to have a look for himself. My take away, after seeing Pascal's presentation, is this:

Avalanche airbags work. While statistical outcomes change depending on the variables considered, Pascal repeatedly found that wearing an avalanche airbag increased your survival chances by about 25%. This 25% increase in statistical survivability, combined with the high rate of survival provided by Lady Luck, accounts for a very high survival rate with all airbag users. While no-one should ever consider the airbag to be a silver bullet, Pascals findings verify what we at Mammut have long believed: reducing burial rates directly increase survival rates.

Pascal's paper brings some other important considerations to light. For one, it is disturbing that he finds over 37% of users unable to deploy their airbags in real life events. For me, this highlights the need, before every run, to do a trigger check, as well as occasional test deployments of your airbag pack to ensure it is working properly and that you understand how to deploy it. It is my personal belief that a significant number  of "unable to deploy" instances probably include some users that failed to arm their device.

Again, Airbags are not silver-bullets. People die despite wearing and using airbags. In fact, some people have even been buried despite deploying an airbag. Last year, an avalanche in Telluride tragically demonstrated that airbags can be punctured in rugged terrain. Events last year in Norway and Chamonix demonstrated that even with a deployed airbag, you can be buried (watch out for terrain traps and exposure from above!) And of course, there is the "Faster and Farther" issue: once an airbag is deployed in an avalanche your increased surface area will reduce your chances or self-arrest--you are that much more likely to be pushed to the toe of the slide (or towards objective hazard!) It is not in our interest to ignore these points. Rather, we must be experts with our safety gear. To be experts we must understand, accept, and consider the limitation of the device. Perhaps, in considering these limitations, we will be less likely to allow our safety equipment to give us a false sense of security. Of course, the best way to survive an avalanche will always be to prevent getting in one.

Silver-bullet or not, airbags will save lives. This was brought home to us all at the Northern Rockies SAW event when pro-skier Elyse Saugstad gave a first person account of surviving a very large avalanche last season at Steven's Pass in Washington State that took the lives of three of her friends.

Thank you to everyone who supported the ISSW and SAW events this season. For now, Pray For Snow!