Avalanche Floatation Devices (AFDs) or avalanche balloon packs have been used in some parts of the world (primarily the Alps) by ski tourers and off-piste skiers for many years now. They have also shown up in our areas occasionally when guests have brought them on their CMH Heli-Skiing trip.
Initial Independent studies seem positive. Tests in North America and Europe have shown that wearing an AFD pack increases your odds of ending up on top of the debris rather than being buried in it, primarily in larger avalanches where the debris flow is turbulent.
There are other considerations that have prevented us from fully endorsing their use.
- In North America we spend much more time skiing in the trees and trauma has been shown to be the cause of death in a significant number of avalanche fatalities2. Other studies have shown that with some devices you are more likely to end up in a head downhill, face down position after they're deployed. Not a problem on an open slope, but potentially a big problem if you're being carried through trees. The Snowpulse has been designed to provide protection from trauma.
- Even with the few balloon packs we've had in our operations we've had a number of accidental deployments, and some of those around the helicopter. This is obviously a potential hazard.
- Together with Alpine we've worked really hard to eliminate unnecessary weight from the helicopters. Adding 12 balloon packs per group would reverse some of these gains.
- Because of regulatory requirements and the very small but serious risk of an accidental deployment during an emergency exit from the helicopter the packs cannot be carried in the main compartment of the helicopter. They must be stowed in the ski basket or a netted off jump seat. This means that the waist and leg straps must be unbuckled and the pack removed on every run.
Jeff Boyd, Medical Consultant for CMH and member of the ICAR medical Commission , was involved in the above-mentioned study of the efficacy of avalanche flotation devices1. The Canadian Avalanche Association has been coordinating a study of AFD packs in the Canadian context and we look forward to seeing the results of that study.
To use an AFD or not is your choice; we aren't mandating or discouraging their use. But we'll do our best to make one available through a rental program (see below) if you would like one for your Heli-skiing trip.
None of this lessens the importance of staying out of avalanches in the first place. As always, this will be the primary focus of our guides, each and every day.
AFD Rental Program: Book before you go!
To guarantee that an AFD is available for your use, please reserve one at least two weeks prior to the start of your trip.
To reserve your AFD:
- Email your request to email@example.com or call us at 1-800-661-0252. You can also contact your CMH agent or representative.
- AFDs are available for a weekly rental of $200 plus tax. A $90 + tax non-refundable deposit will be taken at the time of booking.
- You will be required to sign a rental agreement / waiver at the area.
- Rental cost includes an orientation on its use before you start skiing.
- REMEMBER – you will be required to take AFD off and to secure the trigger device at the bottom of each run! We will supply you with a shovel and probe to use for the week.
Which AFDs will be available for rent?
There are two main suppliers of AFDs:
- ABS (model: Helibag) designed and manufactured the first avalanche balloon pack and it has been undergoing continual development for many years - www.abs-airbag.com
- Snowpulse (model: Pro-Rider) is a more recent entrant onto the scene and has a different design - www.snowpulse.ch
These two models will be offered as follows:
- ABS will be offered for rent in:
Adamants, Bobbie Burns, Bugaboos, Cariboos & McBride.
- Snowpulse will be offered for rent in:
Galena, Gothics, CMH K2, Monashees, Revelstoke, Nomad North & South
Check out Dr. Boyd's blog post:
"Avalanche Flotation Devices - Keeping Things In Perspective" »
Feel free to contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Brugger H, Etter HJ, Zweifel B, et al. The impact of avalanche rescue devices on survival. Resuscitation. Dec 2007;75(3):476-483. Available at: Avalanche rescue devices
2 Boyd J, Haegeli P, Abu-Laban RB, Shuster M, Butt JC. Patterns of death among avalanche fatalities: a 21-year review. CMAJ. Mar 3 2009;180(5):507-512. Available at: Patterns of death among avalanche fatalities
3 Pascal Haegeli 1,2*, Benjamin Zweifel 3, Frédéric Jarry 4, Spencer Logan 5, Hanno Bilek 6, Marek Biskupič 7, Hermann Brugger 8 and Markus Falk 9. ON THE EFFECTIVENESS OF AVALANCHE BALLOON PACKS