Innovations are welcome as long as they come in a user-friendly design. Brands respondwith more technology and less faff. By Rocio Enriquez.
Snow safety focuses mainly on avoiding snow burial. Electrical airbag systems are popular. Cartridge-based designs get lighter, while remaining reliable. User-friendliness is critical. Other approaches aim to manage the burial, like assisted breathing systems. The influx of newcomers to the backcountry has boosted sales of entry level rescue bundles with probes, shovels, and beacons. Certification is appreciated and education has become the main form of retailer support.
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Electronic airbag systems share shelves with cartridge-based ones. While the former is easier to operate and maintain, the latter is much more affordable. Amongst the electronic ones we find BCA’s Float E2 and ABS’ A.Light E, both powered by Alpride’s supercapacitor. On the cartridge-based offer we find Aerosize’s Hybrid Airbag and Mammut’s Removable Airbag System 3.0. Thanks to the small cartridges, Aerosize can place 174L of airbag inside a compact vest. This system is easier to store and carry as a second set on longer trips. Mammut’s RAS 3.0 is easy to use and deploys in seconds. “It is one of the lightest and smallest systems available”, says Alexander Weijnman.
Smart designs offer versatile and easy to use backpacks. Users want smart storage and access to their kit on the go. They also appreciate the possibility to use their pack with or without the safety gear. Aerosize’s Vest One is so compact that you can use it with a backpack and remain protected when you take it off. BCA’s design allows access on the fly. The lower side pocket can carry your drinking bottle, skins, or crampons. “This way you don’t have to take the pack off and give up your airbag insurance”, says Simon Allwein. The back zip allows you to fully customise the position of the trigger handle, drinking system or radio.
Dakine relies on their roll-top closure, available in all their Mammut R.A.S. 3.0 compatible backpacks. Mammut highlights the safety features of the bag in orange to enable intuitive handling under stress. Their packs have anatomically supportive 3D panels that tailor to the wearer’s back. Their simplistic design enables easy packing and reliable mounting of additional gear. ABS promotes versatility. The base unit of their A.Light E. airbag fits with all their A.Light Tour zip-ons. They also present the A.Round, which transforms into a functional outdoor pack for all seasons.
Shovels, probes, and beacons are selling well. Customers look for certification. Mammut’s new Alugator Ultra shovel is ultra-light. The aluminium welded construction can cut through avalanche debris. Their probes are stiffer and bend less while penetrating the surface. Both shovel and probes are UIAA certified. BCA uses the same certification. They offer very light carbon probes and touring poles, and the ultra-light Dozer-1T UL shovel. ABS relies on their A.Ssure set of shovel, probe and first aid kit. Aerosize enables the use of an avalanche vest together with a probe and shovel. Geekier solutions are Mammut’s Barryvox@ S and Recco SAR location services. Mammut Barryvox® S has a Smart Search function that interacts with the rescuer during the search. Recco keeps growing their network of countries and locations. They are also working on drone projects. “We are having the first prototypes tested right now”, says Julia Granhed. They produce helmet and backpack reflectors and the Recco belt for all-year round use. The novelty in avalanche safety devices is Safeback’s SBX breathing system. This active air supply system keeps the user breathing during burial, without a mouthpiece. On a full charge, it can supply air continuously for 90 minutes at temperatures of – 22 to – 30. It will be integrated in DB’s Snow Pro Vest and Bergans´ Y Mountain Line Daypack.
There are non-avalanche specific safety products worth mentioning. BCA offers a wide range of snow study plus their own BC link radios. ABS’ A.Way app allows you to check the snow conditions and train your safety knowledge. Aerosize announces new products for 2024.
All brands offer their own education programmes. Mammut organises on-snow workshops with Swiss and German retailers, covering from rescue techniques to basic snow science. Dakine will be present at the Safety Shred Day. “This event is aimed at training and informing riders about avalanches and mountain risks”, says Thomas Gachet. Recco has developed “The Plan”, a small safety folder with basic safety information for the consumer. Their Recco Academy trains retailers to explain the products with integrated Recco reflectors. Safeback provides product pages to their partnering brands to help users understand how to use their device. ABS and BCA also offer in-store and online training for retailers.
Extended production lead times and raw material scarcity has presented some challenges. Electronic airbag systems have suffered scarcities of chips and boards. Nevertheless, good forecast and earlier booking has allowed timely deliveries. The slight increase in the final price will be justified by the quality delivered.