Monday, January 9, 2017

Are Avalanche Airbags Effective in the Eastern US and Canada?

Here at Mammut we sometimes get contacted about what our stance is on avalanche airbags in the Northeastern US and Quebec, Canada.  The topic came up again recently, so I put this together to give people the relevant information to judge for themselves.  I also wanted to hear from some experts on the subject and see what thoughts they had. It's turned out to be a bit lengthy, hopefully some of you find this helpful because we think the conclusions are valid anywhere, not just the East.

First, some of you may be thinking that "Eastern avalanche terrain" is an oxymoron, and herein lies some of the issue.  Many Eastern skiers spend much of their time in areas that simply aren't avalanche-prone, and because of this it's completely normal for many backcountry skiers to not carry any avalanche rescue equipment.  But, as Frank Carus, the acting Lead Snow Ranger for the Mount Washington Avalanche Center (link) points out:   "We have plenty of places where you can get buried".
The North Face of Gothics in New York's Adirondacks is a popular spring ice and snow climbing route, but occasionally holds enough snow to get skied, or to avalanche.

The Northeastern US and Quebec are both speckled with terrain that has become popular with skiers and riders, areas that in some cases are remarkably similar to the Rockies and the West that is more typically associated with avalanche terrain.  Every couple years there are avalanche accidents (link), including fatalities (link), across the region to prove this point.
One issue that Carus and others wrestle with is the perception among some people--even those who are aware of Eastern avalanches--that even though the East has them, that "Eastern avalanches are different".