Most of the time, skiing is a fun, leisurely pursuit enjoyed my millions of people around the world. Occasionally things can take a turn for the worst, like last weekend when an avalanche took the lives of three highly experienced skiers in the Cascade Mountains in Washington.
Of the four skiers caught in the avalanche, only one survived. Speaking after the incident, Elyse Saugstad put her incredibly lucky escape down to her airbag backpack which she managed to trigger just in time.
“Ultimately I think you don’t have much time to react,” she said in an interview with ABC News. “The first thing that came to my mind was to use my airbag device.”
As she and her fellow skiers were swept 3,000 feet down the mountain, her inflated airbag helped to keep her on top of the snow. The airbag is also designed to create space around the skiers face and body so that should they become buried, they’ll still be able to breathe while they wait to be rescued.
The device has been available in Europe for some time, though has only recently come to North America.
Speaking of her experience, Saugstad said it was like being tossed and turned in a washing machine. “You don’t know which way is up, but the [airbag] system keeps you up above so you have a very good chance of survival,” she said.
The airbag backpack, which costs around $1000, is activated by pulling on a handle, causing it to inflate with nitrogen. It’s been designed so that it doesn’t obstruct the view of its wearer or hinder their movement.
The latest design actually comprises two, not one, 85-liter airbags, which inflate on each side of the user’s body, helping to keep them as flat as possible on top, or close to the top, of the avalanche.
The maker of the airbag, a German company called ABS, has been researching ways to survive avalanches for more than 30 years.