Deployed Avalanche Airbag Provides Air Pocket, Visual Marker for Buried Sledder

BCA Float avalanche airbags protect backcountry riders in multiple ways.  When deployed, they can serve to ‘float’ a person to the top of an avalanche, preventing avalanche burial.  If buried, deployed avalanche airbags can also keep snow from caving in, provide air pockets and breathing room, and protect the body from trauma by cushioning a person from hitting rocks or trees when tumbling down in a snow slide.  And the bright orange airbag can provide rescuers with a visual marker to where the avalanche victim has come to rest.
Backcountry snowmobiler and avalanche survivor Wade Anderson experienced the benefits of a deployed airbag, when caught this winter in a avalanche in the Tetons. He was interviewed by Jeff Wagner of CBS Minnesota.

‘It’s Like Hitting A Brick Wall’: Man Recounts Snowmobiling Into Avalanche

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A Minnesota man’s annual snowmobiling trip out west nearly cost him his life.  Wade Anderson was riding at the base of a mountain in Wyoming when he got caught in an avalanche.  He says he was buried in about three feet of snow and could not move. A pivotal purchase made just before the trip is the reason he is alive.

Even though Anderson is an avid snowmobiler, he only recently bought a BCA Float avalanche airbag. This was his first trip wearing it.

“Now I’m thankful every day that he made that purchase this year because it saved his life,” Robin said.  She can’t even count how many times she’s heard him tell the story since he returned home.

In early February 2017, Anderson took a trip out west with some friends to Togwotee Mountain Lodge in Jackson, WY on a guided snowmobile trip.

He said was snowmobiling near the base of some mountains close to the town of Moran. He said he started to riding up a hillside when he noticed what looked like blowing snow on a windy day. It turns out he was driving head on into an avalanche.

“It’s like hitting a brick wall. I hit it and dead stopped, flew off my sled and started sliding and rolling,” he said.

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Anderson estimates he tumbled down the hill for 15 to 20 seconds before coming to a stop. He said he was buried in at least 2 feet of snow and could barely move.

“It just forms like concrete,” he said.

Buried in thick avalanche debris, Anderson was lucky he was wearing his avalanche airbag. Strapped on his body like a back pack, he said he had just enough room to pull the handle to deploy the live saving tool.

“I heard the air bag inflate and then it was just wait until somebody came and saw me,” he said.

The avalanche airbag that deployed not only kept the snow from caving in, Anderson said it gave him more space to breathe. The airbag, which is bright orange, also partially stuck out from the snow.

“It felt like a long time because I was laying there face down in the snow wondering if I would be found,” he said.

After about three minutes, Anderson said their snowmobile guide spotted the air bag and started to dig him out. He knew then he was safe.

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BCA sled ambassador and snowmobile guide Matt Schebaum was also out with a group in the same area that day.   Matt reported that Wade Anderson’s group has been snowmobiling  through low angle terrain — a few hundred yards across a meadow from avalanche terrain.  The Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center forecast that day reported that large wind slabs up to four feet deep had formed over the previous few days and predicted snowpack to be very sensitive, even releasing naturally.

Anderson and another rider were lured to a slope away from the group, while their guide was helping someone else get unstuck.  The two claimed they never saw the slide coming — because the visibility was so low above them it and they could not see the avalanche that they triggered above them.   Anderson was buried and the other snowmobiler was able to outrun it.   The top few inches of Anderson’s deployed airbag sticking above the snow was just enough of a visible clue for their guide to complete a successful rescue.

Later that day in the lodge, Anderson asked to refill his airbag canister — an interesting request since the group assumed he was either going home or going for a easy trail ride the next day, and not planning on having to use his Float pack again. He explained that before he left on his snowmobile vacation, he had told his two young daughters that they could pull the cord on his airbag when he got home. He didn’t want to have to tell them why it was already pulled.

Back at home standing in his driveway, Anderson demonstrated for how the Float avalanche airbag worked for his family.  His demo was the second time he had deployed it – and the first time his wife saw how it worked.

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Anderson shows his family how he pulled his avalanche airbag trigger, and inflated his life-saving airbag.  He depresses the interior valve to release the air to repack the airbag into his pack.

“It’s just crazy to look at something like that and know that, that’s what saved his life,” his wife Robin said. “Something as simple as that and that was his savior along with the people that were with him.”

“Every time I hear his story I get another piece of it and just realize how close I was to losing him,” she said.

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Jeff and Robin Anderson, and their two daughters are happy Jeff survived his avalanche experience in one piece.

Anderson says he’ll never tell someone they have to buy an avalanche airbag, instead he said he’ll just tell them the story of how owning one is the reason he’s alive. BCA’s MtnPro Collection is a snowmobile-specific line avalanche safety gear, which includes the Float MtnPro Vest, MtnPro Protective Vest, Tunnel Bag and Shin Guards.