Tradeshow Highlights – Avalanche Airbag Packs
There’s no shortage of Outdoor Retailer (OR) trade show beta on the interweb, but I’d feel amiss in my duties I didn’t add something about the newest backcountry ski gear we saw while walking the halls at OR.
In the big picture, I’d say the two biggest themes for backcountry skiers were avalanche airbag packs and tech bindings. I’d say sweet lightweight powder skis, the category most near and dear to me, was a close third with some great looking news boards from Voile, Sportiva, Black Diamond, G3 and Volkl. This post will focus on avalanche airbag packs. I’ll take on the tech bindings second and skis third.
The trade show featured a significant increase in airbag pack offerings. There are several new players including Osprey (featuring ABS technology), K2 (featuring BCA Float technology) and Black Diamond (featuring proprietary Jet Force battery powered technology) as well continued refinement and improvement of the offerings from the usual suspects Backcountry Access, Ortovox and Mammut.
The ABS brand airbag system has now been picked up by numerous pack brands including Dakine, North Face, Arva, Osprey and Ortovox, no to mention ABS offers their own line of packs. Interestingly, the ABS system uses compressed nitrogen and an explosive charge in the trigger – seemingly more complex than the compressed air and mechanical trigger of the BCA Float or Mammut’s Snow Pulse systems. I’d guess the proliferation of ABS brand components is due to the fact that ABS offers a zip-in unit that pack manufacturers without in-house airbag tech can simply design a pack to plug and play so to speak. The zip-in unit also means that the user can, in many cases, zip in a non-airbag back for use when the added safety of the airbag is not required.
Even more interesting in airbag tech is Black Diamond’s still-in-the-works Jet Force airbag system that relies on a battery powered fan to inflate the airbag. Though not yet ready for the market, the new system (co-branded with Pieps – owned by BD) is sure to shake things up a bit. The simplicity of an electronic system has its appeal, but with a forecast price tag of over $1,000, lower price is not one of the benefits, yet. Here is a video demo of the Black Diamond Jet Force pack in action. Arc’teryx has a similar battery powered fan system in the works for an airbag, too. In fact, I saw a functional prototype of the Arc’teryx battery powered system last winter. Arc’teryx was not offering demos at the trade show, but the patent for the Arc’teryx battery powered system is well documented online, and the prototype i saw last year was operational.
The bottom line is airbag packs are becoming fixtures in the avalanche safety world. Pack designs are nicer than ever and the technology is obviously evolving toward user-friendly and functional designs that speak to users of all levels.