On the airbag subject that Mumbles and I were discussing on Will's post; I've been looking at AirBag for a couple years now, but not too seriously, until I saw the Snowpulse. As most of you know, Avalanche airbag had been on the market for many times now. The most known system is the ABS Airbag from Germany. I've seen the Escape series (30L), and it seems well built, but the Pack itself is pretty basic, and it's heavy too. The Vario seems to be their latest product; The design is pretty innovative, as the Airbag itlself is fitted inside the "Pack Frame", and you basicaly decide what pack size you want to fit on your Vario frame. They are interchangeable as well, so you can have two pack sizes that will fit your expensive Vario frame. But this system use a one time shot Nitrogen cartridge, and that's not easily refilable, as you have to send it back to a retailer in N.A., Also, the release mechanisme is in fact a Pyrotechnical ignition in the activation handle, which is probably why it never really took off in N.A. , As I think if I'm not mistaken, it's not considered safe by regulators to fly commercial airlines in N.A. because of the gas and pyrotechnic trigger. ** See Edit. The design of this bag is basicaly two big bag on each side, that will greatly increase your chance of staying on top of an avalanche. By design, this mean there's also a good possibility that you will be head first, and facing down during the slide.
Edit: new canister stamped with this number: DOT -39 NRC 3940/4930 M9802; proof of approval by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT).
Until just this week (mid-October '07), that was the reason ABS packs were heard of, but not seen in the US. As of now, however, all that changed when DOT certified a new canister that, unlike the original design, cannot be reused. Perhaps not the green answer ABS had hoped for, but better than continued denial of the only avalanche safety device proven to reduce burials. Now that those hurdles have been overcome for ABS, it should also clear the way for other manufacturers to offer similar products.
The new Snowpulse that will be available in October/November of 2008 in North America is using the same concept of Inverse Particles, but the design is way different. Snowpulse is using a bag that will form a protective envelope around your head,neck and the front of your upper torso, to increase the odds of having your head on top along the ride, and also, to provide maximum protection for your noggin on the way down. When the bag slowly deflate, it will also provide some breathing space around your head, where you will likely need it in case of a complete burial. The other cool thing is the Snowpulse is using DRY AIR, and not CO2 or Nitrogen, and the canister CAN BE REFILLED EASILY. The release mechanisme is NOT pyrotechnical like the ABS.
This afternoon, I just phoned Chuck Gorton from CanadianPowder (www.avalanchesafety.ca). They are the North American distributor for Snowpulse, and they are based out of Golden,BC. Those guys were also selling/distributing ABS product, but I'm not sure if they still do, I did'nt ask. He was telling me that they are in discussion with bunch of retailers to sell this product for next season, and that they are receiving great feedback. The version currently being sold in Europe is a first version, and the version they will sell next year is the "final" release with some requested modifications from users. I don't have all the details, as this version isn't out there right now, but I'm planning on driving to Golden soon to check the current Snowpulses they have on hand. The pack will come in three sizes, a 15L ($1049 Can), 30L ($1099 Can) and a 45L ($1149 Can). From what Chuck told me, they feel better and are lighter than the ABS. They will come in two sizes, SMALL and LARGE, to accomodate all torso sizes.
Both airbag are in the low thousand price wise, which is still expensive, but more I think about it, new beacons cost you 450 to 600 for the Pulse and Ortho S1, Splits or Apline Touring gear aren't cheap, etc... so for a pack that can save your life, and will more likely last you for a long time, and will certainly keep a very good resale value if you don't need it anymore, it's probably not bad. I think the day big retailers like REI or MEC start carrying them, they will be more mainstream. Right now, not too many people knows about them, and the ones that know usually can't find a place close by that sells them, so that we can get a feel of them. Plus a store like MEC that sell so much touring gear, and promote snow safety, should be a leader in making those products available to it's member. I've already send them an email, and Chuck confirmed me that he's trying to convince them to carry the SnowPulse for next season .... time will tell I guess!!!
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2006 10:10 am Posts: 1169 Location: Denver
Did you get a chance to try this baby out? If so, how is the rest of the pack, well thought out from a snowboard perspective? I assume the straps and stiching would be bomber to accomodate the forces of a slide, but how about pockets and waist belt and zippers and overall pack comfort? The other thing i was wondering and havent found online yet, is the probability of the air bag deploying incorrectly around the head. For example, when snowboarding downhill and your head is tilted severly sideways. I assume the force of the airbag would straighten your head out. Is there a certain way you have to pack the airbag like a parachute? The ABS system seems less likely to have this problem. I do prefer the location of the Snowpulse airbag, especially considering the amount of trees in NA vs Europe for trauma protection. Also the fact that it would have a greater probability of a face up ending position after the slide, in case you are solo and no one can dig you out....
Someday Im going to own one of these, probably not until they become more mainstream and cheaper though.