I found this review of BCA Airbags on JonesSnowboards.com by Seth Lightcap. Seth was severely injured in the backcountry last year by an avalanche, and has some powerful insight if you’re considering stepping into the market:
I have no qualms about you spending your holiday cash on a Hovercraft splitboard, but just in case you got a little extra $$$ burning a hole in your bib pants…Have you considered investing in an avalanche airbag pack?
I’ll admit that I had passed off the airbag purchase for a couple years. Between the cost and the limited pack size options I had never seen an airbag pack that felt right for me. As it turns out, I waited too long to make the investment. It’s only speculation, but had I been wearing an airbag pack during an avalanche I was caught in last March, I would have probably ended up with fewer injuries.
The reason why I feel an airbag would have helped me avoid injury is the same reason airbags have saved lives in dozens of instances around the world. When properly deployed, airbags help keep you afloat and increase the chances that you’ll end up on top of the slide rather than buried within it. The principle is much like the bowl of chips sitting in front of you. When you shake the bowl the biggest chips rise to the top while the broken chips fall to the bottom. I got pummeled in my accident when I got sucked to the bottom of the slide as it tumbled down the slope. Would an airbag have helped keep me off the bottom and saved me much pain? I wish I knew.
The airbag is not an acceptable alternative to a proper education in avalanche awareness however. Not putting yourself at risk in dangerous avy conditions will always be the best policy. But, the airbag is a proven precautionary measure. Jeremy Jones and the entire Jones snowboards team wears them when filming in avalanche prone mountain ranges even if the avy danger is moderate. You’ll also notice Travis Rice and John Jackson wearing an airbag pack in the Art Of Flight and Nicolas Mueller, not only wearing one, but deploying an airbag when caught in an avy filming for Absinthe’s Twelve in Turkey.
For a better perspective on how an airbag works in real life, check out the video above. This skier deploys a BCA airbag after getting caught in an avy while heli skiing in Alaska. At about the 40 second mark you can see the orange glow of his airbag deploying. He comes to a stop uninjured and on the surface.