I recently bought a Backcountry Access Float 30 airbag pack and got to take it out for the first time today. Conditions were stable, so I didn’t get a chance to go for a ride and blow it off, but hopefully I will soon. (kidding, okay… kidding).
This is the second airbag pack I’ve owned with the first one being an early ABS pack which, although it had an airbag, the rest of the pack was designed by Martians and was completely unusable for backcountry skiing. The prohibitive price of airbags means that there is a large demand for used ones and I was able to sell the ABS pack for only a small loss, which was a major consideration with buying this new one. If for some reason I really hate it, I probably won’t be out the full price of the bag. It takes some creative financial rationalization to talk yourself into buying one of these, even though you know deep down in your lungs you probably should.
Airbag packs are proven to be one of the best avalanche survival gadgets out there and if they were the price of a beacon (haaahaahaa) they would be ubiquitous in the backcountry. As is now, they are up to fifteen times the price of a normal skiing backpack. I was on the fence about getting one this year until I talked to Doug Workman who deployed one in a massive avalanche and described it as “the hand of God reaching down to save me.” He was sure he would have died without it, and from my 5-10 avalanche incidents, I can only think of one where an airbag pack wouldn’t have made a difference and that was because the slide was large. Nothing is going to spare you from a Class 5 slide (destroying small towns) but from my experience, most backcountry avalanche accidents are probably in the Class 2-3 range where an airbag will definitely make a difference.
There are three major players in the airbag market – ABS, SnowPulse and BCA. The ABS was out due to my prior experience with them and although the SnowPulse is a beautiful pack, it comes from $witzerland and is seemingly made by retired hedge fund managers to whom money is no object. I tried to summon all my financial creativity, but just could not stomach the SnowPulse price tag. My only hesitation with the BCA bag was that I had seen early crude prototypes of it for over a year and thought it had a long ways to go on the fit & finish. But, 2010/11 production versions are very well made and detailed.
My first impression of skiing with it today was very positive. It works well as a BC day pack and for the most part I barely noticed any difference. Weight is still a issue with this genre of packs and in an ideal world they could lose a few pounds. Fully kitted out with water, snacks, a probe, shovel, jacket, spare gloves, etc it came in at about 19 pounds. I’m not sure what my normal pack weighs, but as I carry different stuff all the time, it is more of a relative measurement.
I’ll need to spend more time with it to give a detailed, worthy review, but until then, I fear no avalanche. (Kidding, again. Really.)
Category: Gear Reviews