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Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors

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The Rucksack With A Difference

Posted on
December 22, 2016
The Rucksack With A Difference

The last few weeks have been a huge amount of fun here in the French Alps. I've been lucky enough to have free-skied with friends and fellow ski instructors here in Méribel, and also in Val Thorens, Tignes and Val d'Isere. Granted we haven't exactly been skiing in deep powder snow, but I have to say that the endless sunshine has been rather enjoyable that's for sure. Whilst skiing, I'm always on the lookout for something to write about on my blog page. And this week's post is a little different to normal, ie nothing to do with ski instructing, snow conditions or the fabulous people that I meet on the mountain. It's a short post about a friend's rucksack! The amazing Black Diamond Halo 28 Jetforce Avalanche Airbag Pack (disclaimer: neither he nor myself are being paid by Black Diamond).

Whenever I open my rucksack before going skiing, there is normally a short list of things that I tend to find inside. Quite often my camera will be in there, plus a spare pair of gloves, a small bottle of water, my off-piste safety kit if skiing off-piste, several empty chocolate wrappers, and a bag of dried fruit and nut mix. However, Chris will find something else in his - and it's very clever indeed. He has an avalanche airbag set-up. 

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These avalanche airbags are nothing new, in fact they have been around now for about a decade. I've been lucky enough to have owned one for eight years, after receiving it as an incredibly generous gift by a family that I have skied with for well over ten years now. How do they work? In summary, the user deploys the airbag by  pulling on a trigger. This trigger activates a gas cylinder that in turn rapidly inflates large bags (just like an airbag in a car). These appear from the side and the top of the rucksack.

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In theory, once the airbag has been inflated it reduces the risk of the skier having an impact with something hard (ie trauma), and more importantly, the airbag will help the skier stay much higher on or close to the surface of the slide. This means the skier will have a lower risk of suffocation, and it will enable rescuers to locate and extract the skier from the avalanche debris much faster. This all sounds very serious doesn't it? But then again, off-piste skiing is a serious business. 

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Hence the sales of such airbag rucksacks have been very healthy for a number of years. Here is Chris kindly giving us a demonstration of how the airbags inflate.

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It's quite impressive isn't it? So why the blog post now, if they have been around for years? Chris's rucksack has a new (available for about a year) method of inflating the airbag. The traditional type relied on the gas cyclinder to inflate the bag/bags. It works very well indeed. But when a gas cyclinder has been used, it needs to be refilled by approved retailers to be able to work again - there is a small cost for this. So in other words, once the airbag has been deployed, it has lost its full use until it has been refilled. Chris's bag is different.

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The Jetforce bag uses a very efficient ventilation fan system for inflation, instead of the traditional gas cylinder. The fan system is powered by a battery, which can be charged back in the chalet or hotel room overnight. Each battery is capable of deploying the airbag four times, rather than just the one. This means that if Chris has deployed his pack, and was even more unlucky (or stupid enough) to be caught in a second slide on the same day, he would be able to activate the system again. To be fair to Chris, I don't believe at all that he would be stupid, but you get my drift!

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However, there is another positive to this system. It's not uncommon for skiers to deploy the airbag system accidently without being caught in an avalanche. A couple of my clients here in Méribel have ABS bags, and John accidently activated his wife's system. He felt like a right berk, his wife was a little miffed, and he swiftly went to a ski shop to get the gas cyclinder refilled. Accidents happen. But with the Jetforce system it just doesn't matter because of the four deployments available.

By the way, there is another wonderful feature. After three minutes of the bag being inflated, the clever fan system goes into reverse and sucks out all the air of the bag like a vacuum pack. This in turn creates a large air pocket for the skier either to have a wriggle, but also provides more air for breathing. How cool is that?

Here is Chris easily packing away the deflated airbag back into his rucksack.

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Yes, these bags are expensive, but they work very well indeed. Each year on the mountain I see more skiers wearing the airbag rucksacks. Fingers crossed they still recognise and respect that skiing off-piste can be a dangerous sport, irrespective if you own one of these bags.

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I hope you enjoyed this article, which as mentioned earlier is a little different to my normal posts. If you liked this post, you might like another from a couple of months ago titled 'Skiing Friends', click here for the link. We are racing towards the festive period, and I have to say that Méribel and the rest of the 3 Valleys ski area is coping  well with the lack of natural snowfall in the last month. The network of snow cannons has done an excellent job of providing, and increasing, the amount of skiing terrain available. Do come back soon for another post. Martin.

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With our skills- based system of learning, we give you the tools to safely negotiate any demands the mountains make on you, helping you to increase your comfort zone and ski in a wider range of conditions. Whether you are a nervous novice, a blue piste cruiser or an all mountain adventurer, we tailor your ski lessons to create a perfect fit. The question is, which one are you?

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