Stevens Pass Avalanche: This Air Bag Backpack Saved a Life

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Elyse Saugstad says an air bag backpack saved her life this past Sunday when an avalanche struck while she was backcountry skiing in Washington state, according to her blog. Saugstag was one of several skiers caught in avalanches at Stevens Pass, in the Cascades.

Saugstad is a pro skier and had been given the ABS Avalanche Airbag Backpack by the manufacturer, ABS Avalanche Rescue Services for promotional purposes some time ago. The company couldn't hardly have asked for more publicity for its product.

She says was taking a break with other skiers when the avalanche was spotted. The 33-year-old told ABC News that

“There’s basically a system where you have a lever on the chest part of the backpack.... It’s a normal backpack and when you pull the lever. …It deploys the airbags to fill up with air and what it essentially does is, it keeps you above the avalanche.”

[See the full video interview from ABC News here].

Two men standing near her but lacking backpacks were killed, according to an ESPN editor who happened to also be part of the group and one of the survivors.

" target="_blank">Officials estimated it was a Class 3 avalanche, which the Avalanche Center website says can destroy a small building and snap trees.

The device was invented in 1985. It hash become popular in Europe within the past few years, but still hasn't gained much acceptance in the US because of its high cost: ranging from $830 to $1,300. That may change as more companies offer the product. The North Face, for example, is about to roll out its own avalanche air bag safety devices.

The backpack has two bags, one on either side, and bags are inflated by compressed nitrogen.

See a video of it in action here:

Skiers have survived without high-tech bags, of course. It's worth repeating the advice from the National Snow and Ice Data Center for how to survive an avalanche:


eep up to date on warnings.

Carry a beacon, probe, and shovel if you are going backcountry skiing.

Yell and let go of ski poles. Use swimming motions. If you end up near the surface, stick out an arm or leg so rescuers can find you.

If the snow is over your head, try to make an air pocket in front of your face with your hands and arms. Take a deep breath and hold it or you might not be able to breathe after the snow sets.

Do not panic. Breathe steadily.


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