Life-Link will distribute the ABS (air bag system) backpack in North America beginning this winter. The ABS backpack is designed to keep the skier above the surface during an avalanche by increasing the volume and surface area to help “float” the victim to the surface during the avalanche and as the snow settles. The airbags stow in the backpack until the trigger handle on the shoulder strap is pulled. Within 2 to 2.5 seconds the nitrogen-air cartridge is activated, deploying two 75-liter air bags out of the sides of the pack. The system can be reused over and over by simply folding the air bags back up into their backpack pockets, inserting a new cartridge of nitrogen air, and replacing the Trigger handle (the cartridge and handle come as a package).
According to Life-Link, approximately two-thirds of buried avalanche victims are recovered dead, while statistics have shown that 90 percent of non-buried victims survive avalanches. There have been over 30 documented cases in Europe where the ABS backpack has saved lives.
SNEWS® View: Only time will tell if the ABS system is as popular in the United States as it is in Europe. With the growth of backcountry powder skiing taking off across the country, shops that sell backcountry gear to skiers and snowboarders should be interested in this avalanche safety tool and recommending it, along with the Black Diamond Avalung, avalanche beacons, avalanche shovels and avalanche probes. In addition, stores should be promoting the taking of avalanche safety courses as another indispensable tool. Only through awareness and properly outfitting consumers can we hope to minimize losses from avalanches each year.