The Heli-Ski Blog

Airbags and Heliskiing – A Rapidly Changing Technology

Posted by Topher Donahue on Aug 4, 2011 8:46:00 AM

If you get caught in an avalanche, pull the cord, stay on top of the debris, and when the snow stops moving just walk away and go ski another run.  Sound good?

Sounds really good.  Among a handful of avalanche survival technologies, airbags, now being referred to as Avalanche Floatation Devices (AFD) promise to be the biggest change since transceivers were invented in the early 70s.

airbags snowboarding heliskiing

In the Alps, where wide-open alpine terrain is the norm, airbags are demonstrating considerable effectiveness at helping people survive dangerous avalanches.  In North American ski terrain, however, where trees create both great skiing and dangerous obstacles, the efficacy of airbags is less well understood. 

Also, the helicopter creates an additional aspect of managing airbags.  Airbags are not allowed inside the helicopter – imagine an AFD deploying in a cabin full of skiers. While highly promising, the technology is evolving so quickly that CMH has not yet integrated airbags into the company’s required safety protocol.  AFDs  by  Snowpulse (shown in the above photo from CMH Cariboos) and ABS are available for rental by CMH guests. 

This coming winter, comprehensive airbag research will be conducted in North American ski terrain for the first time.  The device manufacturers will be paying close attention to both the results of the studies and the feedback from companies like CMH who are testing the utilitarian aspect of  AFDs in daily ski guiding operations.

Stay tuned.  Within a few years, some form of airbag technology will likely become as standard in a skier’s kit as transceivers, shovels and probes are today.  But even then, the best technique will be, as it always has been, to avoid the avalanche in the first place.

Visit the safety section of our website for more information.

Topics: Product Information, CMH Experts, safety