Float Airbag Saves Man in Courmayeur Avalanche

By Ernst Mueller

I was skiing in Courmayeur, Italy on a powder day, just off piste, and got caught in an avalanche slide.

Overall it was pretty obvious to both me and my two ski buddies that day that the pack saved me from serious injury or worse. I’ve heard a lot of cryptic jokes about airbags before, with people wondering aloud if they actually work. I can say that not only did my Float avalanche airbag pack keep me above the snow, but when I slammed into a boulder the pack prevented me from being pinned down on it and instead helped me deflect off.

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North facing terrain, off-piste but just under the Bertolini quad-lift in Courmayeur, Italy. This photo was taken from the lift afterwards.

January 9th 2016, Courmayeur Italy

    • I was wearing a BCA Float 18 pack
    • Had been snowing all week after a very warm December with hardly any snow.
    • Temperature around zero Celsius, powder was heavy/wet but still pretty nice to ski
    • Dropped into line with zero tracks on it, first 3-4 turns were very nice

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(A) My tracks at the top; just after the small tree the pitch increased to maybe 40 degrees, immediately at that point it felt like I had snapped a giant rubber band that had been stretched tight.

  • Slab broke (apparently about a half turn above me according to my spotter) and rather than slide as a big piece, immediately disintegrated into a river of snow chunks. I fell instantly.
  • Extremely wet and heavy snow, more powerful force than I’d ever imagined, simply awesome (in a bad way). Felt myself being pulled down fast in it, with skis acting as an anchor, and was fortunate to get to my airbag triggered.
  • My spotter says I deployed the bag extremely quickly once the slab broke, however to me the whole thing happened in slow motion and it felt like a long time.

(B) You instantly feel the pop once the bag deploys, and it raised my upper body out just in time before I slammed skis-first into boulder.

(C) I strongly believe that if the bag hadn’t raised me a bit from the snow, I would have been crushed against this boulder, instead I deflected skier’s left towards and got taken maybe a hundred meters down into the run-out zone.

  • In the run-out zone my only thought was “SWIM, SWIM”, and I made big circles with both arms fighting to stay up. One ski came off. I should have dropped my poles as per avalanche protocol, but I think the adrenaline meant I gripped them super tight instead.
  • Most importantly, during this point in the slide I clearly felt a strong pressure on the waist loop, as the snow was pulling me down and the bag was pulling me up. It shocks me how many people I see skiing with airbags who do not use their waist loop. The bag is next to useless without it. Anyone who has felt the force of these things would realize that without the waist loop, the bag would be yanked off of you in half a second.

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(D) This point shows how far skier’s left it broke, and the crown there was closer to 3 feet. You can see that it was a full-depth slide, with a crown of about 2 feet where I triggered it.

(E) When I came to a stop I was completely encased from the waist down, and you can see me digging my legs out afterwards.

I was very lucky to come out of it with just a few bumps, and am 100% convinced that my airbag prevented me from being seriously injured.  And thank you BCA for making a great product at a price point that more skiers can afford.

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