/ ABS bag for avalanches

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Donnie - on 13 Jan 2013
Hello. I'm new to winter climbing and I just watched the Friday Night vid of a skiier getting stuck in an avalanche. This scared me quite a bit, so I was looking at safety equipment for avalanches and came accross the AVB bags that you inflate when an avalanche hits.

Everything I can see on the internet ralating to them seems to be about skiing. Do mountaneers use them too? Are they appropriate for Scottish winter?

Cheers
Wee Davie - on 13 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie:

You'd be far better off researching how to avoid avalanches. I don't know anyone who uses these bags for Winter climbing.
RichardP - on 13 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie:

> Do mountaneers use them too? Are they appropriate for Scottish winter?

Hi Donnie
Personally I think it would be better to learn how to read the weather conditions, learn about prvailing wind that will create a cornice which when it collapses could cause an avalache.

If you do a winter skills course you will learn about cutting a snow cross section so you can see if the slope could be prone to avalache.




Henry Iddon - on 14 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie:

As a general point - and I'm happy to be contradicted - but skiers use them as they are more likely to be involved in huge slides involving a high chance of burial with ABS systems keeping you close or on top of the slide.

Must gully avalanches in the UK result in injuries due to impact with gully walls / being smashed about on rocks etc.

AndrewHuddart - on 14 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie:

Few (if any) climbers in Scotland carry a bleeper, probe and shovel and none (that I've ever heard of) carry air bags.

Prevention is certainly better than cure.

(But there may be an occasional argument in favour of the bleeper/probe/shovel addition to packs for some days in Scotland)
testagrigia - on 14 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie:

Totally agree: learn to avoid avalanches. That said, anecdotal evidence from talking to others into freeride and ski touring: ABS works in loose snow avalanches, but not other types of avalanches (slab, wet snow). The only real way to reduce the avalanche death risk is if everybody out on the mountain in winter is equipped with arva, shovel and probe and knows how to use them. If you do get buried, there is then some hope that someone who escaped the avalanche will locate you and dig you out. Another avalanche safety system is Avalung, which significantly increases your chance of staying alive under the snow (if you are not killed instantly in the avalanche). And a mate of mine has a really old system, which I haven't seen on sale anywhere, which releases an inflatable buouy on the end of a rope, which is supposed to stay on top of the snow and help rescuers locate you (or your body). I have a bag equipped with Avalung on the recommendation of a guide I was skiing with who says it saved his life. Not many ski tourers I know use ABS. Have seen quite a few freeriders and heliskiers (mostly German) using it. I guess there's more risk of loose snow avalanche if you out looking for powder to bash. As for potential utility of any of the above in Scottish winter climbing, I have my doubts.
Milesy - on 14 Jan 2013
As said. Injuries are caused by being taken off a crag/cliff or being knocked into rock / ice / other climbers. Avoid avalanche terrain :) Yuo can go on courses if you want to learn quicker.
AndrewHuddart - on 14 Jan 2013
6In reply to testagrigia:

I need to find the article (I think it was from the SLF) breaking down avalanche deaths.

As I recall, something like 60% were from trauma (tree and rock impact etc), and the rest split between heart attack and suffocation.

Your air bag might help you avoid the latter but won't do anything to reduce your risk of getting smashed to pieces on the way down.

Totally agree that the best insurance is a combination of knowledge, experience and the holy trinity of bleeper, probe and shovel.

It was interesting to see on Saturday at Engelberg in Switzerland (on a powder day with blue skies) that there was around 95% helmet use and 20% air bag use on the first lift up (fat ski brigade). My bleeper then went nuts when I put it into search mode in the lift queue...

Anyway - stay safe out there.
John Roberts (JR) - on 14 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie:

Never used one climbing, though almost everyone I ski with uses one habitually (along with transceiver etc)

Hindu the stats you're referring to are here, and

http://abs-airbag.de/en/abs-system/stay-on-top-to-stay-alive/

http://abs-airbag.de/fileadmin/default/downloads/ABS_Statistics_English.pdf

It's all well and good saying that learning is better, it is, but it's also better to be learned and equipped with equipment proven to work. A hell of a lot of experienced mountaineers/skiers die in avalanches, you can only theoretically avoid all avalanche terrain due to how localised it can be. The excuses often come because they're so expensive, which I can understand.

http://www.outsideonline.com/outdoor-adventure/the-gist/Blowing-Up.html


AndrewHuddart - on 14 Jan 2013
In reply to John Roberts (JR):

Thanks John.

Absolutely agree about stacking the deck in your favour. You can only do so much to reduce the risk. If I was going to be spending more time off piste this winter I'd be buying one and I'll certainly be skiing with one next winter.
Donnie - on 14 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie:

Thanks for your thoughts folks.

From what I can see most people are against using them for winter climbing in Scotland because: a) it's better to learn how to avoid avlanches; and, b) most avlanches in Scotland aren't ones where you get trapped.

Both arguments seem a bit strange to me. RE a)I wouldn't be using the pack as substitute for learning to avoid avalanches and even the most experienced climbers can get hit sometimes. RE b)There will presumably be some avalnaches in Scotland where it would be of use and based on the stats provided it would be a fairly large minority.

Are there any other reasons not to use one, beyond weight, expense and being looked down upon by your fellow climers?
Chateauneuf du Boeuf - on 14 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie: Skiing is most fun after new snow, this is also when avalanches are most prevalent. Climbing except of the scratching up rimed rock kind is best done after a thaw and re-freeze. Avalanches are least prevalent at this point. I don't know anyone who carries a shovel climbing in Scotland let alone a transceiver and an airbag. Particularly the airbag would be a very expensive and bulky way of minimising risk in a miniscule amount of circumstances. Has anyone every died in Scotland as a result of being buried in a loose snow slide?
Shearwater - on 14 Jan 2013
Another issue which you may or may not care about: there are various companies who make airbag rucksacks, and various companies who make good rucksacks, and there's not much of an overlap between the two sets.

If you're not skiing, your risk of ending up in an avalanche should be significantly lower, unless you're a bit of a daftie. I already have an airbag rucksack, and I wouldn't take it out if I wasn't skiing.

In reply to testagrigia:
> ABS works in loose snow avalanches, but not other types of avalanches (slab, wet snow)

What makes you think that airbags don't work in slab avalanches? I'm pretty certain there are several easily findable videos elsewhere on the internet showing skiers and snowboarders triggering slab avalanches and using airbags and staying on top. Perhaps I've misinterpreted them, but I don't see any easy-to-find bits of documentation supporting your assertion either. Got any informative links?

Wet snow avalanches though, that's fair enough.
James Edwards - on 14 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie:
I have a snow pulse 45 airbag thing that I bought for off piste ski work. However at the time I was only doing a couple of days of this and lots of easy graded climbing. I went through a phase of using it for climbing, particularly when going into a new north west location during the heavy snow we have had in the last couple of years,
Basically as I spent a weeks wages on the thing I wanted to get some use out of it, but it was quite heavy. I don't use it any more, I'll probably end up selling it.
You have to be very aware of not catching the launch handle, not having slings or a bandolier in the way etc
James e
Dave Kerr - on 14 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie:

Forget about being looked down on.

Weight is a big deal in a winter pack which is heavy enough already. A quick check reveals that the size of ABS bag you'd need for climbing weighs in at around 3.5-4kg. For comparison my 2 man tent weighs about 2kg and 2 petzl quarks about 1.1kg. I think you'd very quickly be cursing that kind of dead weight on the majority of days out and be leaving it behind for something lighter.

Yes, climbers have been caught and killed in avalanches in Scotland that conceivably might have been saved by an ABS system. It is however sufficiently uncommon that most climbers consider them to be not worth the extra weight or cost of having one.

If I can say this without sounding patronising I'd suggest that a lot of your fears would be better allayed by a bit of experience and a lot of reading / learning rather than an ABS system.

You don't need to fear avalanches, you need to respect them and do your best to understand both them and your own decision making processes
Erik B - on 15 Jan 2013
In reply to Dave Kerr: I think these bags would be beneficial for winter hillwalkers. Climbers have more chance of extricating themselves on dodgy slopes, eg having ropes and ability to belay and the weight/bulk wont work with all the extra climbing gear.

Its all very well saying folk can learn about avalanches but the reality is that folk get caught out when the weather is shite, they cant see where they are going and just want to get off the hill. these bags could work for hillwalking. PS I dont respect avalanches, I am terrified of them!
Jim Fraser - on 15 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie:

Proper evidence is only just starting to emerge about air bags and there is not as clear a case for them as many might imagine. How this may be tied in with the user's attitude to risk when they are wearing one may be a factor. Ordinary hill users should be looking at the ground and choosing a good route instead of trusting their life to dubiously effective heavy extra kit.

Leave the air bags for the people who have to be in the path of avalanches to keep everyone else safe.
Young Fox on 15 Jan 2013
In reply to Jim Fraser: I quite agree that folk need to avoid avalanche terrain and knowledge is the key. I don't think for general climbing I would want an air bag or should need one. The arguments about beacon, shovel and probe have been made already. However, skiing be it touring or off piste the evidence is unequivocal that an airbag increases your chances of survival especially in Europe. The exception being caught in terrain traps. Less success in North America mainly related to hitting trees, but still a big increase in survival probablity. The evidence for skiers is pretty big both from the international snow science presentations at ISSW to Worksafe BC (their health and safety exec) as well as AENA et al and it being seen as PPE in most big resort ski patrols. As an unfortunate who likes skiing deep and who has done - does some ski cutting with patrols my view is that if I only had £500 to spend I would buy the airbag over the beacon shovel probe everytime if I had to make a choice. It wouldn't do my mates any good but it might keep make me the Brazil nut in the Alpen. Even with a Beacon the probability of being alive after 5 mins under is very low and ICAR figures as stats can mislead folk into thinking "hey - I have 15 minutes". This years early season French accidents alone show that only 1 out of 5 who were dug out extremely quickly who had BLS/ALS at the scene survived and even that ones still in ITU a month on. For Scottish climbers on how avoid an avalanche but coupled on how to survive an avalanche would be an idea as are there are some very definite strategies that help if caught.

stuartmacdonald - on 16 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie: Hi Donnie, Great to see that you take your safety seriously in the mountains.

Without wanting to be controversial, there is some good advice already posted, but also some fairly innacurate comments. As a professional Mountain Guide who specialises in Avalanche Safety I am constantly reviewing equipment and training in this field.

Airbags help keep you on the surface in the event of an avalanche by a process called "inverse segregation". In simple terms, when you shake a variety of objects, the larger ones come to the surface and the smaller ones end up at the bottom. You can try this yourself with a can of mixed nuts, or by watching how they grade rock in a quarry. This process works in loose snow and slab avalanches.

Airbags are not popular for winter climbing for two main reasons - 1. They are expensive (around £700 depending on model), and 2. They are heavy. Most units are around 3kg when armed.

So will we ever see them in Scotland in winter ? I think we will, but only when they become much lighter and cheaper.

I fully agree with the comments that avalanche awareness and hence avoidance is essential, but I also agree with JR that awarness AND equipment are better still. My car has seat belts and an airbag, but I still drive carefully.

I would hope that you would consider doing some avalanche training before venturing into the hills this winter, and I hope you have a safe and enjoyable season.
In reply to stuartmacdonald:
> As a professional Mountain Guide who specialises in Avalanche Safety I am constantly reviewing equipment and training in this field.

Stuart, you probably know this field as well as anyone here and far better than most of us, so what are your thoughts on incidents where skiers have used their airbags and they haven't worked? Somebody posted the report here last week on the avalanche on Sorbmegaisa, Kåfjord, that killed five people last March. It notes that it was the second fatal accident that winter in Norway where an ABS had been deployed but obviously didn't work.

I can well imagine that there will be some avalanches just so massive that nothing is going to help beyond sheer dumb luck, but there seems to be some discussion about how ABS systems work in different snow conditions. What is your understanding of where that discussion amongst experts has got to?

Many thanks, Toby.
jonnie3430 - on 16 Jan 2013
In reply to stuartmacdonald:

If you think airbags will be used by scottish winter climbers do you think transceiver, probe and shovel will also be used by scottish winter climbers? If so, which do you think should be the priority to someone coming into the sport? I would have thought that the "holy trinity," would be the first priority and ABS/Avalungs second.

To the OP: As skiiers search for fresh powder runs after a snowfall and the runs are typically close to the perfect avalanche angle they are far more likely to get caught. Climbers go for steeper slopes that aren't so vulnerable to avalanches. If you want to make yourself safer for winter climbing your money can be spent in a better way.
Young Fox on 16 Jan 2013
In reply to TobyA:

The best article to answer your query is (possibly) downloadable on the net and although a Canadian study the European data came from the SLF in Davos. If you type in Worksafe BC ISSW 2012 you should get the pdf file. Well worth checking the references at the bottom as that's interesting. ABS europe states that 262 persons whose ABS® avalanche airbag was activated, 97% survived, and 84% were uninjured from SLF figures, but the above report is more accurate as it was government led from a coroners enquiery.

Also of note from anecdotal and limited scientific eveidence is that an airbag only works as long as the avlx is moving, the position of the victim in the debris pile is further up the tip and a lot of victims are face down even if on the surface. This appears to be the case even with dual bag systems.

I will be the first to declare a conflict of interest here as I sell both ABS and BCA airbags and teach avlx and companion rescue as well as being involved on the ski rescue side on an international working group looking at the very questions posed here. As a personal take on owning an airbag, its rightly pointed out it's no substitute for avoidance through education but as a backup plan the stats (and personal experience) make having one pretty compeling if you have the spare dosh. A lot of proffessionals have airbags from some very good pro deals. The average skier won't have that luxury though, and as long as folk have the 3 essentials and perhaps maybe paying a pro to learn avoidance might be a better use of money. One such group being http://www.avalancheacademy.com/page.asp?id=about
jonnie3430 - on 16 Jan 2013
In reply to Young Fox:
> (In reply to TobyA)

> but as a backup plan the stats (and personal experience) make having one pretty compeling if you have the spare dosh. A lot of proffessionals have airbags from some very good pro deals.

For who? The OP is asking as a winter climber, not as a skier. He may misinterpret your advice and assume you are applying the statement above to winter climbers, not skiers (who I assume you are referring to?)
Frank4short - on 16 Jan 2013
In reply to jonnie3430:

> To the OP: As skiiers search for fresh powder runs after a snowfall and the runs are typically close to the perfect avalanche angle they are far more likely to get caught. Climbers go for steeper slopes that aren't so vulnerable to avalanches. If you want to make yourself safer for winter climbing your money can be spent in a better way.

And we have our idiotic comment of the day there. Show me a mixed Scottish or large winter alpine route that doesn't go up a steep slope to access the route? On top of that most low grade Scottish gulley type routes are prime avalanche territory. The reality is that most non pure roadside icefall type routes will at some point along the way cross typical avalanche type terrain. Whether it be on the approach or, if you're not directly abbing off of the top, on the descent.

Whilst it would be fair to say that at this point in the OPs climbing career cash could possibly be spent better in ways to protect himself. Like on education, etc. To say that climbers go for steeper angles where you're less likely to encounter avalanches is at best extremely naive and at worst downright dangerous misinformation, especially when telling it to someone with less experience that doesn't know better.
jonnie3430 - on 16 Jan 2013
In reply to Frank4short:

Sorry, I didn't realise you go for 38 degree slopes. I personally go for much steeper. You can misinterpret "go for," until the cows come home, but you will still be misinterpreting my comment. Remember your comment is encouraging the OP to buy an airbag for Scottish winter climbing.
Frank4short - on 16 Jan 2013
In reply to jonnie3430: So you're telling me at no point do you cross slopes in the 35-45 degree range on the approach or descent off of any of the winter climbs you do?

And where you got the my comment is encouraging the OP to buy an airbag part from god only knows. As to be fair I did agree with you in that the OP's cash would probably be better spent elsewhere. I just also pointed out that your comment was quite a dangerous one.
jonnie3430 - on 16 Jan 2013
In reply to Frank4short:

You are being a useless pedant. At no point have I said anything about the angles of slopes that I cross, just that when climbing, it tends to be steeper than popular avalanche angles.
AndrewHuddart - on 16 Jan 2013
In reply to jonnie3430:

>Remember your comment is encouraging the OP to buy an airbag for Scottish winter climbing.

I don't see many downsides from him doing so if he feels it's necessary, aside from cost and weight.



jonnie3430 - on 16 Jan 2013
In reply to hindu:
> (In reply to jonnie3430)
>
> I don't see many downsides from him doing so if he feels it's necessary, aside from cost and weight.

He is asking for advice! Are you giving him advice based on an opinion on carrying an airbag, or just saying "do what you want?" He can inflate a hot water bottle and stuff it down the back of his trousers if he feels it's necessary, but I bet there aren't many scottish winter climbers that do that either.

AdrianC - on 16 Jan 2013
In reply to jonnie3430:
> (In reply to hindu)

" He can inflate a hot water bottle and stuff it down the back of his trousers if he feels it's necessary, but I bet there aren't many scottish winter climbers that do that either.

I do. Makes a great sound when you bumslide over a sharp rock.
sebrider - on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie: I have an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel which I often use when off piste snowboarding, but not climbing; only because I don't want to carry even more gear up the hill! Also, it is easier to make an assessment of the snow pack on a walk than flying down a mountainside on skis etc.

The important thing to note is snowpack stability can have significant spatial variability.

The only way to 100% avoid avalanches is not to go out on the snow. With a fair understanding of the snow pack your risk of getting affected can be significantly but not completely reduced. Even equipped with avalanche forecasts folk still go out climbing and skiing in what can be very risky conditions - they may employ avalanche safety gear to reduce this risk.

The book One in a Million is excellent and is a good read.


The very basics of avalanches are...

Three types
1. Powder avalanche: Not so common in Scotland as powder snow never happens often enough :( More common in the Alps. Most likely 24hrs after snowfall - longer if cold conditions persist. May happen spontaneously, normally from a point source. Biggest danger of these are their unpredictable nature and the speed and distance at which they travel. If you don't want to get caught in these leave about 24hr after significant snowfall before heading out - try telling a skier that!

2. Spring snow avalanche: These tend to be full pack. During spring temps, water appears under the snowpack, which decreases stability especially if overlying grass or rock slabs - the classic case in Scotland being the epic Coire an Lochain slab. As the snow pack ripples and cracks normally long before the avalanche happens, you are unlikely to get caught if you heed the snow's warnings. If you do get caught in these heavy full pack avalanches you are in serious trouble, probably not needing rescuing!

3. The most important for the Scottish climber is the wind slab avalanche. This is caused by snow falling in windy conditions and snow being moved by wind. The result is an often dull and 'hard' snow that often collects in lee side gullies/below cornices but can be on any face; typically localised. Wind slabs are also identifiable, but the stability of slabs can be tricky to assess, experience on snow helps here. Related to this are cornice collapses happening in the same conditions due to excessive build up, or in warmer temps as for spring avalanches when cornices also collapse.

Typically:
Snow accumulation is limited on very steep slopes and snow less able to slide on more shallow slopes; the worst slope angles being around 35-38%
Snowpack stability changes significantly both temporally and spatially - assess constantly.

The snow pack and its stability are a fascinating subject once you know a little about it! Understanding your environment is the best way to reduce your risks and enjoy it.

James Edwards - on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to sebrider:
Dude, you wrote the word "tranciever" but didn't put the compulsory accompanying sentence "thou shalt practice". It's sort of like a rule of grammar, like a q is always followed by a u.

I hope that this clears things up.
James e
sebrider - on 17 Jan 2013
In reply to James Edwards:
> Dude, you wrote the word "tranciever" but didn't put the compulsory accompanying sentence "thou shalt practice". It's sort of like a rule of grammar, like a q is always followed by a u.
Very true :)
testagrigia - on 22 Jan 2013
In reply to Donnie:
Correction to me previous post: just had a lecture on avalanche safety at the Italian Alpine Club here. Saw a few short films. Avalanche airbags appear to work. In real-life incidents and tests, airbag users have good chance of ending up on the surface. Only problem is you tend to end up face down in the snow, which is not ideal if you lose consciousness. I'm running right out to buy one before my next ski tour....

Of course it does not replace avalanche awareness and avoidance, and the holy trinity of arva, shovel and probe, but it does seems to be the thing most likely to save your life if you get unlucky.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRd-tDos5Vg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvFDbE5G70E

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