Why Northern Escape Heli-Skiings chooses to use Avalanche Flotation Device's (AFD's) at their operation ( source: NEH author: John Forrest )
The Avalanche Airbag Backpack or Avalanche Flotation Device (AFD) has been around for many years, but only recently have they been incorporated into commercial heli-skiing operations. There are many reasons for this, but one of the single most important is that the Ministry of Transport has only recently approved the cylinders for transport in commercial aircraft, i.e. helicopters.
Recently I was speaking with a renowned engineer that designed the avalanche transceivers we use, the BarryVox Pulse, about the “new” avalanche airbag backpacks or AFD’s and the efficacy of their use in the heliskiing industry. His answer astounded me as he is responsible for designing one of the most sophisticated avalanche transceivers on the market; he said “if I had a choice of wearing only a transceiver or only an AFD, I would choose the AFD”
That’s a very strong statement and I had to think about it for a minute, putting aside my 30+ years of indoctrination with transceivers, before I could see his point. One device, the transceiver, helps you be located if you’re buried in an avalanche and the other, the AFD, decrease your chances of being buried if you’re caught in an avalanche.
Now, these devices are not infallible and in fact may increase risk in specific situations, but then again so do seatbelts in your car and ski helmets.
Northern Escape Heli-Skiing has been including AFD’s, the Snow Pulse Airbags, as part of their risk management program for two years now and we are very happy with the results. Heliski guests are issued a transceiver and an AFD which also carries a shovel and probe. Each group also carries a handheld radio to communicate with guides and pilots. They receive instruction and practice the use of each prior to skiing/riding with us.
However, even when utilizing the latest in technology, there is still no substitute for avoiding avalanches in the first place.
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