I had the pleasure of trying a couple of the current offerings in air bags over the last two years and was impressed by their design. Well, at least the ones from Mammut and ABS. The BCA one was a pile of crap cause it wouldn’t open, but I digress…We’ve all seen the stats, the videos, read the reviews etc…and I think in terms of technical gear designed to save your life in an avalanche, the air bag is probably the best product on the market that really does make a difference when you get caught in a slide.
But I can’t help but think that as these different packs become more commercially available, cheaper and have more companies making them (there are several already) that they will only encourage the average backcountry skier/rider/sledder to undergo less training and make even worse decisions in the mountain environment.
I have only to look at that video from Colorado that showed the snowboarder using her air bag when she got caught in a slide. With the worst snowpack in thirty years and the hazard high on the day of that slide, what the fuck was she doing shredding out in the backcountry? I later heard this was a comp of some sort. Really? In high hazard and shit snowpack? Is it going to become cool now to have survived an avalanche because of an air bag?
Mountain sports have risks. Especially when we’re in avalanche terrain. But none of us are invincible, whether we have all the tech gear or not. And is it worth it? For those of us that work in the avalanche rescue industry, we have seen dramatic increases in rescues for backcountry enthusiasts and that puts us at risk. How many times have we read about folks who have been caught or tragically killed in avalanches when the hazard is high or extreme? Too many. And while I accept that all mountain sports are not without risk, we have to be better at managing that risk and not making stupid mistakes. And we have to think about the other people whose lives we put at risk because of our sometimes careless and stupid decisions.
Is an ABS bag going to save your life? Maybe. But what it won’t do is help you when you pinball through some trees or over a cliff. So instead of being buried, you’ll be on the surface, mangled and needing a rescue. Air bags, beacons, Reccos and Avalungs will NEVER be a substitute for experience, caution and careful decision-making. There’s no shame in backing off and there is no excuse for stupidity.
I watched a group of guys up on the Duffy a little while ago hitting 20 and 40 footers out in the middle of nowhere. Smart? Nope. Because that is NOT managing risk. Instead it’s complete and total ignorance of it. And so is venturing out into the mountains thinking that technical equipment will keep you safe. It won’t. Only a sharp mind and a good dose of humility in the face of Mother Nature will.
So please think about that next time you go out into the mountains. And while accidents do happen, I know from experience that when I am caught in an avalanche, I have made one or more bad decisions that have contributed to me being in that avalanche. Whether it’s a ballsy ski cut that was completely unnecessary or reliance on how amazing I am or even just not wanting to walk back down a ridge I just spent 3 hours climbing, all of those things add up to being an idiot. I have learned my lesson.
Have you learned yours?
Be safe and ski hard.
Should you have really been out there that day? ‘Cause there is nothing glorious about getting caught in a slide.