Winter safety in the backcountry starts with avalanche education courses and a check of current conditions.
Still, avalanche accidents can happen to even the most experienced backcountry skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and snowshoers.
Look for The Tribune’s collection of gear spotted at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in next week’s Sunday Money section.
A new innovation in avalanche air bags deployed from backpacks emerged at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market held in Salt Lake City Jan. 21-25, and it is turning some heads.
Black Diamond Equipment, a Salt Lake-based outdoor gear company, showed off its new JetForce Technology drawing large crowds at is twice-daily demonstrations.
Air bags are not new on the avalanche safety scene, but JetForce is the first — according to the company — to use an electronically controlled jet-fan inflation over the compressed gas cylinders used by other companies.
"It became obvious that travel restrictions, weight, misfires, repacking/refilling, and single-shot deployments were all compromises of existing airbags," Nathan Kuder, softgoods category director from Black Diamond Equipment said about competitors’ limitations. "So, we set out to create an airbag system with higher functionality throughout all aspects of its use."
JetForce is activated by a rechargeable electronic device and provides nine seconds at 100 percent fan power to deploy and fill the bag. After full deployment, JetForce pulses between 100 and 50 percent power to keep the bag full. Black Diamond Equipment officials say the bag will stay inflated even if it is ripped during an avalanche ride.
The fan system eventually reverses to draw air out of the bag, leaving a cavity in the snow if the user was buried and allowing for possible self-rescue.
Friends of avalanche burial victims can activate their own JetForce bags to safely search for their partners if they feel another snow slide is possible.
"There is a buzz in the avalanche community about it. Black Diamond is certainly using a different technology than everyone else has used so far," said Bruce Tremper, director of the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center.
Tremper said the fact JetForce runs on a battery and can be triggered multiple times is appealing to backcountry winter users because they want to be able to test the backpack without much trouble and don’t want to have to refill or replace the cylinders.
Snowmobilers, Tremper said, are currently the largest market for avalanche airbag backpacks. He expects fan technology will appeal to self-propelled backcountry users because it is a lighter technology.
The Utah company will release the Halo 28 Pack starting in Fall 2014. It is expected to cost $1,100, which seems high but compares favorably with the existing cylinder-based avalanche backpacks.
"Every time you go into avalanche terrain, the tools you bring only help to stack the odds in your favor," Kuder, said. "No piece of equipment can replace good judgment, but the JetForce system, when paired with education and experience, can create a critical margin of safety."
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