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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Avalanche Airbag Effectiveness?

This has ben a topic of conversation I personally find very interesting.
My first question is how many buy a avi pack and take a avi class..?

"Much better to have a clue than buy more gear."

Blog: Avalanche Airbag Effectiveness - Something Closer to the Truth

Monday, March 4, 2013
Bruce Tremper
This winter I noticed a magazine advertisement for an avalanche airbag pack that claimed “A 97 percent success rate in real world conditions.” What the advertisement didn’t mention was that people caught WITHOUT an avalanche airbag have an 80 - 90 percent success rate. In other words, most people caught in an avalanche will get a cheap lesson; they will either escape off the slab, grab a tree, dig into the bed surface, ride on top of the debris, it will be a small avalanche that wouldn’t burry them anyway, they could be saved by a beacon recovery or they could just get lucky. Most people caught in an avalanche will survive, which is very good news for all of us.

More here:


Ben said...

I agree that gear can not trump terrain. I think Bruce does a good job talking about unsurvivable terrain.
I live in Durango and ski and ice climb in the San Juan mountains. Possibly the most dangerous mountains in the lower 48 from an avalanche perspective. We have a lot of unsurvivable terrain here and a very touchy snowpack. This is highlighted by a fatality outside of Telluride last year where the victim died despite his airbag after being flushed though trees.
I'm AIARE level 3 certified and a AIARE level 1 Course Leader and level 2 Instructor. I also work as a full-time guide and am out in the San Juans skiing and Ice guiding all winter long.
I jumped on the airbag bandwagon this year and so have most of the guides that I know. Certainly as a guide the airbag helps to offset the unknown of the various clients we are going out with. I'm also very aware that the airbag is no magic pill and am still very conservative in the terrain I chose.
For me, I made the investment in an airbag because even after having spent 13 winters in the San Juans I do not for a second think that I am above the hazard. I know to many good/smart people that just slipped up once and paid the price. An airbag increases my odds. Their not perfect but even if they only increased them 10% (stats look much better) I figure I owe it to my wife to be as prepared as possible.

Harald said...

I'll keep it short. Without airbag 1 out of 10 dies (90% survival). With airbag 2,5 out of 100 die (97.5% survival). I used the more exact figures from the dataset. I.e without airbag you are 2.5 times more likely to die.

Dane said...

Harald...I have to think that silly reasoning for any number of reasons.

Jeff said...

Harald: based on your numbers wouldn't it be 4 times more likely to die?
Any thoughts on the avalungs, for ski touring there is much less of a weight penalty, though I am not sure about the success rate.

Ben said...

I'm not a statistician but I agree that Harald's math is off a bit.
Just looking at the numbers presented 1 out of 10 is the same as 10 out of 100.
So if 100 people without airbags get caught 10 die.
If 100 people with airbags get caught 2.5 die.
10 divided by 2.5 = 4
So there are 4 times the amount of fatalities in the non-airbag group.
I don't think that translates to your chances being 4 times better if you have an airbag as you have to account for everyone, not just the people that died.
I think that confusion was part of the point of Bruce's blog.

Still 4 times less fatalities is a lot of friends and families that don't loose a loved one.

I choose to use an airbag for the same reason I wear a seat-belt. I'm not planning to get in a car wreck and I try really hard not to but if I do get into one the seat-belt gives me a better chance.

Dane said...

I do not want to stiffle the discussion. I think it is important. I did a local BC loop a few weeks ago. We have plenty of terrain traps and trees here on high risk terrain. in a lot of the skiers I saw that day had air bags on. I have no idea where else they skied that day but seeing them on the same terrian where i was (with litle risk) made me think they had packs but not actual experience or knowledge where they might be best used. Or how.

It was only a guess. But I think it is bad to compare a seat belt to something like a ski helmet or a air bag that seems to ENCOURAGE people to ski in places they would not ski with out them.

I don't drive faster or take more risks because I buckle up. My bet it most that strap on a helmet or a air bag think they can do just that.

Ben said...

If we operate with the assumption that airbags lead people to take greater risk then you'd be right. That said I disagree with that assumption.

The shift in risk acceptance is currently just a question/theoretical talking point in the industry.
There is currently no evidence that I'm aware of that airbags are leading people into taking more risk.
Some folks ponder that this could be true, but we could just as simply assume that folks with airbags are concerned enough for their well being that they aren't into taking risks.

I would argue that seat belts are a great comparison. I don't want to get into a car wreck anymore then an avalanche. I think most folks are relatively conservative with risk. Sure there will always be a few risk takers among us but just like most climbers wouldn't jump on run-out 5.11 just because they got a new helmet, I don't believe most skiers are going to drop into a huge bowl just because they have an airbag.

Let me back up and contradict myself a bit. I do think almost all of us drive differently because of seatbelts. Ever drive 75 in heavy traffic? Of course, we all have. Some folks call this their daily commute. Would you feel as comfortable if I reached over and unbuckled your seat belt? That said the shift in risk acceptance in driving has been offset by the increase in safety provided.

I maybe wrong but until we have some data we are all just guessing.

While it was before my time, I understand that this is relatively the same conversation people had when beacons started catching on.

Of course, I would have been one of those people you saw that day. My airbag is my touring pack so it has definitely spent plenty of time skiing 25 degree powder.

If it makes you feel better, I can think of at least a dozen people that I know that got airbags in the last year. All of them have at least their level 2.

Dane said...

I'll start with helmets.

I know for a fact that people ski tight trees much faster and much more often, where several decades ago, the skiers capable would not have with such thoughtlessness. Part of that is ski and board technology to allow more people into that terrain. But I'd bet without a helmet most now would be more sensible in how they might ski tight trees.

Then may be I just ski with a bunch of boneheads in helmets.

I don't believe your assumption on seat belts is true. The daily commute is safer because the cars are safer. The seat belt is part of a system.

Air bags might well be part of a system. But seat belts don't encourage me to drive unsafely. Do airbags encourage you take bigger risks in the mtns? My guess is yes.

I was deeply involved in the ski industry (area management, pro patrol and ski guide) when beacons came into exsistance. Never heard a word from anyone that beacons would make you safer....just made it easier to find...the bodies.

I look at this as soccer or football.

If people used some comon sense and play by the rules both can be pretty fun and good sport.

You want to play tackle football..and not risk any more than required to avoid brain injury, broken bones and put on the helmet and pads.

Pro linemen have no comparison to even a small terrain trap or a 20" pine tree.

I like skiing deep snow, trees and steep terrain as much as anyone. But I'll do it without a helmet, airbag or avalung, thank you. I put my efforts into knowing the terrian and snowpack, adding to my skills base and avoiding the situations that will require all the above.

Somehow I don't think I will miss anything.

Ben said...

Well I've got egg on my face for bringing up the beacon thing. Like I said it was before my time.
No point in us bantering back and forth about increased risk acceptance when there is no data-set out there to back either of us up.
If anyone else cares a simple Google search reveals a wealth of information about seatbelts. They can draw their own conclusions.

You started out with a blog asking about airbags vs education. I was inspired to respond because this is somethingn I've been paying really close attention to and I have general witnessed a very different trend. Again I know of no evidence to back up a position on education vs avalanche but my own anecdotal experience suggests that it is actually those that have the most clue that are jumping on the airbag bandwagon quickest.
After over a decade in the outdoor industry I've been jumping through a lot of the certification hoops the last 2 years. I was impressed when I took my AMGA Ski Guide course last year that all 3 Instructors where using airbags. Again when I took my AIARE Level 3, all 3 Instructors where sporting airbags. This year I took my AIARE Level 2 Instructor Training Course and again both Instructors, and a number of the students were using airbags.
I'm not trying to say people should skip education. I teach the courses and do believe in what we as an industry are trying to do. Two years ago I went out of my way to get my wife into a Level 1 course with a different Course Leader so that she could get the full course experience.

I follow this blog regularly (maybe more then any other) and I was a bit surprised to see the resistance to new technology that I'm reading into these comments. I think this blog has become fairly influential in the industry and so hope that you can keep an open mind. At least until we actually know more about how airbag proliferation will effect general fatality rates.

Rosy Eaton said...

Haunted by the question of whether my brother, Will Eaton, would have survived the avalanche on the Grand Casse if he had been wearing his airbag, I stumbled across this blog. At the time of writing, his photograph sits at the top of this webpage.... We will never know if his airbag would have saved him this time, but I understand it had in the past. I feel compelled to post something to say - please, if you care about your loved ones, make sure you are as well prepared as you possibly can be with information, education AND equipment. Anything that increases your chance of survival, decreases the risk that the lives of your loved ones will be shattered.