When and Why to Bring a Float Pack (Airbag) Instead of a Traditional Ski Pack

By BCA Ambassador Mike Alkaitis

Do you always need to bring a Float pack? Lately I’ve been thinking of when to bring a Float pack while touring in the backcountry, especially since the snowpack is finally consolidating in Colorado. We’re all creatures of habit and backcountry skiers are quite finicky about the gear they bring or don’t bring on a trip. We want to be familiar with our gear and how it works. For me, I also hate carrying extra weight on a tour if I don’t have to. Float packs are heavier than regular packs (such as the Stash) so I have to feel a need to bring one. Here are some thoughts that go into whether I decide to bring a Float pack on a tour.

There are many equations to think of in relation to what pack to bring, but the most important is, will a Float pack be the difference from me surviving or not? The most realistic danger may not be an avalanche, but me falling down the couloir or steep face I’m trying to ski. For most of my skiing, the Float pack is an absolute must. The greatest danger I face in central Colorado is the possibility of getting caught in an avalanche. I would way rather have the ability to rise to the top of the avalanche debris than be at the bottom.

I’ve heard a few peoples’ concern that they don’t want a Float pack on if the avalanche will take them through trees. It seems to me it’s preferable to enter the trees from the top of the snowpack where I can see than under a pile of snow.

A Float pack won’t help you if you get hit by a secondary avalanche after having deployed the airbag. It won’t help you if the air bag pops from impact or shredding. It certainly won’t help you if you don’t connect the air cylinder  correctly. I’ve had a few friends (who shall remain nameless) who, after a trip, go to discharge the airbag before getting on an airplane only to discover they had not connected the cylinder correctly to enable the bag to deploy. Always read the instructions and practice. It’s worth the money to have the cylinder refilled to know you have it set up correctly.

BCA’s Float Packs are a great tool to have along with education, communication, radios, and sick terrain to ride. Plan well and learn how to properly use all of your equipment.