BCA’s sales and marketing team recently returned from the 2012 ISSW (International Snow Science Workshop), held in Anchorage, AK. This is the second in series of blogs on the presentations we liked best.
One of our favorite talks was the one by BCA’s own Steve Christie. Go figure! Steve’s talk preceded the one on “avalanche balloon packs” by Canadian Ph. D. Pascal Haegeli, which we summarized in our previous ISSW blog. Haegeli’s presentation summarized Canadian airbag statistics, with the conclusion that avalanche airbag users are twice as likely to survive a “critical” burial than non-airbag users.
Since Haegeli’s stats are limited to Canada–and stats collected previous to that have come only from Europe–BCA has decided to track and record statistics on all avalanche airbag deployments in the US. Here are some of the key findings Steve presented at ISSW:
• Airbags are catching on fast: Of 357 respondents to the online survey we put out last spring, 60 percent owned airbags; 52 percent had purchased theirs within the last year. A third of the airbag owners were snowmobilers.
• The majority are educated: 55% had taken a formal on-snow avalanche course.
• The biggest reason for buying an avalanche airbag was “statistics.” Other respondents repeatedly mentioned that they don’t trust their partners to perform a rescue—or the airbag was provided to them by a loved one.
• This one was disturbing: 19 respondents admitted that wearing an avalanche airbag increases their tolerance for risk and affects their decisions on choosing terrain.
• Thirteen respondents had actually deployed their airbag in an avalanche. Of those, 12 ended up on the surface. One other was completely buried, but was rescued by a partner with a beacon, probe, and shovel.
• Half of those incidents were not reported to the authorities or to an avalanche center. With beacon rescues, our previous research has shown that 40 percent of incidents go unreported. This number appears to be higher for incidents with airbags, as fatalities and injuries are less common.
The main difference between Steve’s survey and the one presented by Haegeli is that Steve’s included unreported incidents, which makes a huge difference. It was also not limited to worst-case incidents involving more than one victim, which may have skewed Haegeli’s statistics. Either way, both studies confirm that avalanche airbags are making a significant difference in saving lives.
While there are obviously other airbag incidents that have occurred in the U.S., Steve only included those incidents that were reported in his survey. BCA plans to keep this research going, so if you have used an airbag in an avalanche, please fill out the survey here or contact us at email@example.com.
This series is dedidated to Theo Meiners, founder of Alaska Rendezvous Heli Guides, who passed away at the 2012 ISSW. Theo has been a long-time friend and ally of BCA.
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