Etc. Gadgets: It's Safer On Top

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Fall Line
Ski Life Gadgets: It's Safer On Top Photo 1

Avalanche safety equipment has tended to be after-the-fact: transmitters to identify buried skiers, probes to locate victims, titanium shovels to quickly scrape through snow that's curing into a concrete-like hardness. No longer. The new ABS backpack, which is a cross between a car airbag and a life preserver, is designed to float skiers out of harm's way. German engineer and mountaineer Peter Aschauer developed the system, which calls for an avalanche-surfing skier to jerk a ripcord that inflates two airbags in 3 seconds from an enclosed nitrogen cylinder. With 40 avalanche-related deaths last year in North America, heliskiing companies have started equipping guides and customers with the reusable backpacks, which cost $450 to $800 and weigh about 8 pounds. Developing safety equipment is never easy. "Dummies have been used to test the gear," says Brendan Noonan, of Mountain Safety Systems, ABS' North American distributor. "You couldn't expect anyone to actually volunteer." Contact Mountain Safety Systems at www.compnet.at/abs/