April 27, 2012

SandBoxBlogs: Aspen Times "Aspen rider's avalanche air bag helped her survive Alaska slide"

Scott Condon:
"“My first thought was, ‘I have to get out,'” Konicek said. In the seconds she spent looking for a way out, she was caught from behind by snow and debris.

“I was blasted off my feet by all the snow barreling down on me,” she said. She was thrown on her back with such force that she dislocated her left shoulder. As a medical doctor, she realized she suffered the injury upon impact. Meanwhile, she was hurtling down the mountain on her back, head first. She started suffocating on snow.

“It was just like someone was pouring a mountain of snow on me,” Konicek said. “This is happening pretty quickly. I knew I was screwed pretty much.”

But Konicek said she never thought she would get killed, and her last resort was a life saver. She pulled the rip cord of her avalanche air bag and detected “the best sound I've ever heard” when the pressurized air canister released.

The air bag is stored in a backpack. In a nutshell, the bag inflates in two pieces that provide protection from the wearer's lower back to their head, and it splays them flat.

“It floated me to the surface, which was awesome,” Konicek said.

A Swiss company called Snowpulse equipped Orange Extreme with its avalanche air bag packs last winter. It was the first winter Konicek wore a bag. The previous three winters she rode with an avalanche lung, which allows a person to breath longer if they are buried under snow.

Avalanche air bags are surging in popularity. A blog on Wild Snow, a website for backcountry travelers, said a study of documented accidents show that avalanche victims with an air-bag system survive 97 percent of the time.

Konicek remembers being both relieved when her air bag deployed and horrified that she was speeding down the mountain. The couloir was steeper than Highland Bowl. She figures she took a 1,200-foot long ride. The avalanche had started about one-third of the way down the run. The lower two-thirds slid, she said. She estimated the slide at 50 to 100 feet wide and up to two feet deep. Although she and other competitors in big-mountain events train for avalanches and sometimes wear air bags for competition, depending on the venue, this was the first time she had been in an avalanche....." (Read more?  Click title)

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