Interesting video and commentary from the guy caught. It’s rare that someone has an Avalung, rarer so an airbag pack, and this guy is in the .0000001% of people that have both. What’s I find interesting is that he originally had troubling finding the pack’s cord (likely from it being new to him) and opted to get his Avalung in place so he could continue breathing.
It is here, before the need for rescue gear (shovel, beacon probe), where our preventative measures and gear come into place. I cut hard 45 degrees after seeing the cracks. Mistaking a breaking bit of slab for the edge of the slide, I actually though I would make it just before the rug was pulled out from under me. Lucky for me, I don’t use pole straps (another preventative measure) so the only violent tugging came from my skis, which quickly broke off (literally) despite 14 din settings.
Now was the time to engage the emergency gear. I was wearing a BCA airbag pack (Float 30) but had never even practice-pulled the cord. Indeed, this was only the second day I ever wore it, finding it difficult to find a place to fill it in Japan. With snow being pushed down my throat, I prioritized the avalung, which went in with ease and refocused on pulling the cord. I was being violently tumbled and quickly sank when I started to use my arms to place the lung and pull the cord but the second it was pulled I could feel myself float to the surface and the tumbling slowed. By the end, the bag had my floating on my back, with my feet down slope, not dissimilar to canyoning.
The runnout was wide and open so I doubt I would have been buried in the end but the equipment served a function nonetheless. The avalung allowed me to breathe rather than choke while tumbling, a big plus when I went to work on my airbag. The airbag changed the washing machine tumble into a gentler slide and kept me much closer to the surface (there was some pepper on the slope so close to the surface was a better place to be, even if it was going to spread out in the runnout). Finally, perhaps the most important piece of emergency equipment was the helmet. I did not bang my head but it was possible. More importantly in this case, it kept my goggles in place and made it much easier to see the avalung, ripcord and which way was up. If you are going to wear emergency preventative equipment, methinks a helmet should top the list.
Another thing that’s crazy is what took him 40 seconds to go down in the avalanche took his party 3 minutes to ski down – and you’ve got to believe they were amped up on adrenaline and trying to get to their guy ASAP! So nuts.
Be safe out there folks. Seems like the past 30 days I’ve seen/heard/read of a LOT of avalanche near misses and not so misses, don’t know if that’s due to powder fever, more n00bs, or just those lurking layers being hard to find and analyze.
If your local shop doesn’t carry the BCA Float pack you can pick them up online here