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  1. #1
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    Airbags below treeline?

    Was looking at a cat skiing operation's website and came across quote without a citation:

    "Research has shown that airbags deployed in the trees may increase your risk of significant injury.†"

    I'm aware that airbags aren't as helpful in places where deaths are more likely from trauma than burial, but I had never heard this take. Increase your risk? How?

    Does anyone know what research they are referring to?

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  2. #2
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    Huh. News to me. I thought there were more arguments that an airbag could provide some minor protection against trauma in the trees.

  3. #3
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    "Research has shown that airbags deployed in the trees may increase your risk of significant injury. "
    While I tend to agree based upon experience I very much doubt that there is research that says this.
    I have been in this State for 30 years and I am willing to admit that I am part of the problem.

    "Happiest years of my life were earning < $8.00 and hour, collecting unemployment every spring and fall, no car, no debt and no responsibilities. 1984-1990 Park City UT"

  4. #4
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    Just taking out of my ass. As usual.

    There have been a lot of trauma deaths from sliding into trees with airbags. Anecdotal. Not sure of the number. But you have to compare deaths by tree trauma with and without bags.


    By whatís the theory? The bag keeps you on top. Would you prefer to be buried? Do you accelerate faster on top?
    How does a bag affect how you slide?

    Thatís an odd statement for a ski biz to make. A lawyer could have a fun time if you died in the trees without an airbag.

    Iíd wear the bag.

  5. #5
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    Here's a pull quote from a UAC blog post by Bruce Tremper, found here: https://utahavalanchecenter.org/blog/15943


    My pet peeve with this issue is that people who argue about the numbers often leave the most important part out of the discussion--terrain. If you get caught in un-survivable terrain then, guess what, you won’t survive no matter what kind of rescue gear you use. There have been a number of prominent accidents in which the victim with a deployed airbag died because he was either strained through thick trees and rocks, deposited in a terrain trap, buried deeply or went over a cliff. In zero-tolerance-for-error terrain, airbags don’t work, beacons don’t work, Avalungs don’t work. Nothing works. Save your money, buy a life insurance policy and a beacon or RECCO so rescuers don’t have to spend all night probing.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by homemadesalsa View Post
    Here's a pull quote from a UAC blog post by Bruce Tremper, found here: https://utahavalanchecenter.org/blog/15943


    My pet peeve with this issue is that people who argue about the numbers often leave the most important part out of the discussion--terrain. If you get caught in un-survivable terrain then, guess what, you won’t survive no matter what kind of rescue gear you use. There have been a number of prominent accidents in which the victim with a deployed airbag died because he was either strained through thick trees and rocks, deposited in a terrain trap, buried deeply or went over a cliff. In zero-tolerance-for-error terrain, airbags don’t work, beacons don’t work, Avalungs don’t work. Nothing works. Save your money, buy a life insurance policy and a beacon or RECCO so rescuers don’t have to spend all night probing.
    Bruce is legend. Still have his book.

    Yeah. Stats. Or more accurately the book “how to lie with statistics” which I enjoyed decades ago.

    That was a good read. Thx.

  7. #7
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    could be that an airbag reduces your abilty to grab onto tree branches/trunks at the beginning of a slide, or reduces your mobility in a slide so you cant lurch your head/chest away from a tree impact? Maybe its a simple issue of folks with airbags getting a false sense of security and making worse decisions than if they had no airbag? Maybe during the course of teh slide the airbag is more likely to get caught on something rip you around creating trauma instead of just flowing with the moving snow?

  8. #8
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    I would like to get a link/cite to the "research" alluded to.
    Not calling fleaches out, but an interested to read
    ďHow does it feel to be the greatest guitarist in the world? I donít know, go ask Rory GallagherĒ. ó Jimi Hendrix

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by schindlerpiste View Post
    I would like to get a link/cite to the "research" alluded to.
    Not calling fleaches out, but an interested to read
    Yeah me too... That's why I posted here, it doesn't make sense to me.

    I totally get what people are saying about some terrain just being unsurvivable. But then I'd expect that an airbag just adds no value, it doesn't somehow make you *less* likely to survive.

    I was also under the impression that some of the fancier airbags wrap around your head to potentially help with trauma, or at least that's the idea.

    It makes sense that people might take more risks while using an airbag, and if that's in a place where they provide 0 benefit then yes it's overall more dangerous, but that's really a different thing from an airbag actually hurting your chances of survival once caught...

    I too am skeptical there's conclusive research on this, seems like there wouldn't be enough incidents to really draw conclusions. But I'm curious what the supposed mechanism is. I just wasn't aware this was a thing.

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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by californiagrown View Post
    Maybe its a simple issue of folks with airbags getting a false sense of security and making worse decisions than if they had no airbag?
    IF the cat company's stat is true, I'd bet on this being the explanation.

    I have largely stopped wearing mine bc I ski almost exclusively moderate angle trees. It's a nice enough pack, but it's heavy and would provide zero benefit on that type of terrain.
    ride bikes, climb, ski, travel, cook, work to fund former, repeat.

  11. #11
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    I'm not aware of any such research on the topic.

    However..their statement could be correct AND that could be a reason to wear an airbag if you don't want to die.

    In the data I'm most familiar with (US context) severity of outcome in avalanche involvements is recorded as non-injury, injury (multiple levels...critical/non-critical is common), and fatal. These are exclusive (i.e. you're injured-non critical or you're killed. but you aren't critically injured and killed.) So the basic calculation rate for say 100 involvements would be something like 60 noninjuries, 20 non-critical injuries, 15 critical injuries and 5 fatalities for non-airbag, and 60, 21, 17 and 2 fatalities with airbags.

    Someone not being careful in interpretation could see a higher rate of injury with an airbag because lower rate of people died.
    Last edited by doebedoe; 09-14-2023 at 05:34 PM.

  12. #12
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    I just stopped in to say the "Airbags Below Treeline" is a great name for a band.

    Hope that helps.

  13. #13
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    The subset of backcountry safety that is "how to survive and avalanche" often and undeservingly gets more focus that "how to not be in a fucking avalanche".

    I've helped with countless avalanche awareness classes over the years and without fail, a large portion of the usergroup conflates companion rescue with backcountry safety.

    The marketing side of the equation latches on to this because is facilitates something to sell. If you want to stay safe, focus on consistently awesome decision making.

  14. #14
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    Though far from an avi pro, I have worn a bag for about 20 years now and have a very hard time believing that deploying in the trees "increases my risk of significant injuries". I'm going to go out on a limb and call bullshit.
    ďI tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different.Ē
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  15. #15
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    If you want to stay safe, focus on consistently awesome decision making.
    QFT

    Quote Originally Posted by EWG View Post
    I just stopped in to say the "Airbags Below Treeline" is a great name for a band.

    Hope that helps.
    After a 2 hour flight on United, I think Screeching Infants would be a great punk band name.
    I have been in this State for 30 years and I am willing to admit that I am part of the problem.

    "Happiest years of my life were earning < $8.00 and hour, collecting unemployment every spring and fall, no car, no debt and no responsibilities. 1984-1990 Park City UT"

  16. #16
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    Interesting. Can you post the link to the ops website?

    I've never seen any research suggesting this. Anecdotally, I've seen one situation myself (and heard of a few others) of people pulling their airbag too quickly instead of just skiing off the slab or going for the bed surface. It's not really appropriate to coach someone not to pull, so it's a tricky one...

    I'm not really arguing one way or the other, nor have I seen any research, but if I get catched in the trees im grabbing the nearest tree, not my airbag (if I wore one) - and that feels a bit more of an appropriate sell...
    Drive slow, homie.

  17. #17
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    I would rather end up on the surface with a bunch of trauma then buried with 5% less trauma, but add in asphyxia and hypothermia.... And if its a deep burial your fucked....

    A lot of this banter came from Euro airbag research where people are usually skiing in an alpine setting which has led to some questions about airbags in North American tree skiing terrain.

    I'm in the homemadesalsa camp of when your caught in an bad avy negotiating a deal with the deity of your preference might be the best bet. You probably don't know your in unsurvivable terrain until its done though.

    https://www.sltrib.com/artsliving/ou...e-backcountry/
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  18. #18
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    Iíd speculate that a cat operation that spends their days herding wealthy intermediate skiers through moderate angles trees would correctly calculate that that airbags provide no relevant increase in safety, while complicating operations in every other respect, and so would discourage their use.
    Independent skiers making choices in the mountains are playing a different game. I chose not to carry and use an airbag, which would take much more time to explain than I can be bothered right now, but it is not based on statistically significant survivability studies in trees or otherwise.

  19. #19
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    The statement is based on research showing that airbag equipped dummies have higher speeds when caught in an avalanche.
    Then combine that with speculation that any benefits of an airbag below treeline would be more than offset by an increased risk from a higher speed.

    As for anecdotal accounts, the airbag-equipped survivor of the tunnel creek incident was swept through some of the nastiness terrain one can imagine being swept through, yet somehow survived, while three other skiers who went that wringer did not.
    I'm not sure of any accounts of airbag-equipped skiers/riders dying from trauma below treeline, although I'm sure some must be available.

    Either way, "research" definitely does not support that statement.

    But following up on the Bruce Tremper passage (which definitely provided me with some personal amusement value, referencing my now-ancient research), the higher the chance of trauma, the less of a survival advantage from an airbag pack, and hence perhaps a lower score on the WorthItMeter for wearing one.
    However, given that the statement is from a mechanized operation, thereby eliminating the weight issue for self-propelled backcountry access -- as a professional economist trained in weighing benefits vs costs, pros vs cons, rewards v risks, and arriving at carefully worded cautious conclusions ... I think you're totally nuts if you're not wearing an airbag pack for cat or heli skiing.
    Mo' skimo here: NE Rando Race Series

  20. #20
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    Airbags below treeline?

    The idea that wearing an airbag *could* change someoneís behavior is true of course - but it doesnít automatically change someoneís behavior. It doesnít have to change someoneís behavior.

    So any firm statements about higher chance of injury/death strictly due to behavior change alone seems to me like a logical fallacy to then blame the equipment - or leave valuable equipment home lest it change our choices like we have no say in the matter. Makes zero sense to me.

    You could easily extend that ďargumentĒ to beacons.

    How about instead of not wearing an airbag we instead consistently and regularly acknowledge that it shouldnít change our behavior when wearing one. That seems like a more logical approach.

  21. #21
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    Why not just acknowledge that it is changing your behaviour.

    Next time you are backcountry skiing with a group leave your beacon home. Let the group know in the parking lot you are skiing without a beacon that day.

    Tell us how that goes.
    All conditions, all terrain.
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  22. #22
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    The concept is that one moves faster in moving snow when their airbag has been deployed. Itís true.
    Itís also important to be aware of the terrain you are traveling in.

    All of this has been said 100x+.
    Will you make different decision if your car has airbags?
    Will you make different decisions if you wear a seatbelt?
    Will you make different decisions if you wear a helmet?
    Will you make different decisions if you wear a beacon?
    Will you make different decisions if youíre wearing an airbag?

    I think we should use as many resources as possible to help our safety. But not use them as a crutch to not make good decisions.
    Last edited by Ted Shred; 10-09-2023 at 05:40 PM.

  23. #23
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    Airbags below treeline?

    Quote Originally Posted by Darren Jakal View Post
    Why not just acknowledge that it is changing your behaviour.

    Next time you are backcountry skiing with a group leave your beacon home. Let the group know in the parking lot you are skiing without a beacon that day.

    Tell us how that goes.
    An airbag is not changing my decisions. Nor is my beacon. Nor is my jacket. Thatís my point. I have free will - if Iím making bad decisions thatís on me - itís not because I brought certain equipment with me.

    If wearing an airbag below tree line is more dangerous because it makes people make shitty decisions - those people are shitty decision makers.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ted Shred View Post
    The concept is that one moves faster in moving snow when their airbag has been deployed. Itís, true.
    Itís also important to be aware of the terrain you are traveling in.

    All of this has been said 100x+.
    Will you make different decision if your car has airbags?
    Will you make different decisions if you wear a seatbelt?
    Will you make different decisions if you wear a helmet?
    Will you make different decisions if you wear a beacon?
    Will you make different decisions if youíre wearing an airbag?

    I think we should use as many resources as possible to help our safety. But not use them as a crutch to not make good decisions.
    The third sentence is the most important.


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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by bennymac View Post
    An airbag is not changing my decisions. Nor is my beacon. Nor is my jacket. That’s my point. I have free will - if I’m making bad decisions that’s on me - it’s not because I brought certain equipment with me.

    If wearing an airbag below tree line is more dangerous because it makes people make shitty decisions - those people are shitty decision makers.
    You are a better man than me.
    All conditions, all terrain.
    Expect nothing, donít be disappointed.
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