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Chamonix Touring - Airbag?

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Heading out to Cham on a mountain tracks touring course next week and am debating whether I should hire an airbag or not.

By the looks of things the snowpack is fairly stable, and I don't really want the added weight unless I can get hold of a lightweight model. On the other hand, if it makes the trip safer I should have it.

Any advice?

Thanks!
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Probably best to ask the course organisers.
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Assuming you're not doing anything extreme you wouldn't need one now but long term forecast pointing towards snow next week in which case I would take mine. Extra weight is good for the fitness 💪
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The organisers understandably don't commit to either, but good point about the snow forecast Sunday/ Next week.
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I was there for an off-piste course last week. The avalanche risk was a 2/5. I had mine but only a 22 litre BCA and not too heavy. However not required as stable snowpack. The instructor was not wearing his as deemed not required. However if the risk rises with new snow would be a strong consideration. The new snow may be wet and unstable as may be hot at this time of year (over 20C in the valley last week).
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I understand that the rental cost of an airbag is something like 25 EUR a day. Personally, I would just buy one and be done with it. Bergzeit have the small base unit without the activation unit for £268 atm, which is silly money (assuming it fits). If you are worrying about it now then you will buy one eventually.

Regarding carrying an airbag, if I am climbing for more than about two hours a day then I will probably leave it at home. If I am climbing for less than that then I will almost certainly take the airbag. I cannot remember when I last skied off piste without it but then I am a holiday skier these days. I'll flex that according to the avi risk.
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Interesting comments above about the avy risk.

I don't feel any greater need for an airbag in higher avy conditions - my fundamental objective for selection of route / itinerary is to try keep my exposure to avalanche risk at about the level that I am comfortable with, no matter what the conditions.

Saying that you would take an airbag in higher avy risk conditions seems to be saying that you would be taking greater risks in those conditions. Something to think about?
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P.S. to the original question - it's hard to answer. It is such a personal question. It would depend on a lot of things such as terrain (exposure to hazards such as trees and cliffs), distance that you are touring, attitude of your guide / group to risk, how good a skier you are, type of snow you will be skiing, familiarity with the backpack / trigger mechanism etc...

Let me ask another question - are you planning on wearing a helmet while touring? I would say that there is a far greater chance of you using that than an airbag.
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Quote:

I don't feel any greater need for an airbag in higher avy conditions - my fundamental objective for selection of route / itinerary is to try keep my exposure to avalanche risk at about the level that I am comfortable with, no matter what the conditions.


I see what you are driving at but don't quite agree. I have a risk threshold that I will never knowingly exceed. My proxy for that is a conservative application of the reduction method. That risk threshold applies whatever I am doing. Below that I have a lower threshold for whether or not to take the bag. I last left the bag behind in 2011.

I have never regretted skiing with the bag.
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BenA wrote:
Saying that you would take an airbag in higher avy risk conditions seems to be saying that you would be taking greater risks in those conditions. Something to think about?


I've heard this argument come up from time to time with others and I appreciate the line of thinking. However this season I've been in situations with guide(s) where I've been glad I've had the airbag because I've found myself in places that I personally would have avoided if I was in charge of the decision making process.

OK, so it was all ok in the end, and the guide(s) *should* be making good decisions but a little extra margin can't do any harm ?
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BenA wrote:
Interesting comments above about the avy risk.

I don't feel any greater need for an airbag in higher avy conditions - my fundamental objective for selection of route / itinerary is to try keep my exposure to avalanche risk at about the level that I am comfortable with, no matter what the conditions.

Saying that you would take an airbag in higher avy risk conditions seems to be saying that you would be taking greater risks in those conditions. Something to think about?


You either have some crystal ball gazing capabilities or you are kidding yourself. No one knows where the next avi is coming and for sure the risk is higher when the avi risk is higher - that's what it's for.
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@Gorilla... I understand your (and use a similar) logic, but I find that in practice I am always managing things down to my acceptable risk level.
Perhaps you have a much higher tolerance for risk than I do. I can only recall one time when I have been out where conditions have been so benign, that I have been a little more carefree with my choice of route.
Are there really conditions where you are significantly below your threshold that often? Are there conditions where you would leave your beacon behind?

@AndAnotherThing... I can see that you could get into those positions. Ideally I would be raising those concerns with my guide at a time while you still had options. The guide may be in charge of the decision making process but that doesn't stop you taking responsibility for your own safety.
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BobinCH wrote:

You either have some crystal ball gazing capabilities or you are kidding yourself. No one knows where the next avi is coming and for sure the risk is higher when the avi risk is higher - that's what it's for.


On the contrary, I'm saying that I don't have a crystal ball. How do you respond to a higher level of avi risk? I respond by skiing safer terrain with fewer consequences so that, hopefully, my overall risk level does not increase with the raised avy risk.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
Snow coming. Cr*p base. Take a bag.
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BenA wrote:
@AndAnotherThing... I can see that you could get into those positions. Ideally I would be raising those concerns with my guide at a time while you still had options. The guide may be in charge of the decision making process but that doesn't stop you taking responsibility for your own safety.


Indeed, but that pre supposes you know where you are going to end up, and know the terrain well enough to judge upcoming issues. On new ground, often its too late and you are already committed.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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@capability, I would be happy without, so long as the guide was planning to ski slope angles consistent with the avalanche threat level.

Appetite for risk is very interesting. It's said that we all have a threshold and each time we mitigate a risk in some way we are happy jack it up in another area. Personally I'll go a bit faster on my road bike when I'm wearing a helmet. I've also been at the top of questionable slopes when the "leader" has asked has everyone got avi kit, ok, let's have it.

For me I always keep front and centre my personal safety and keep my veto in a safe place and am happy to use it.

What is a problem is our inability to judge risk The example I give above of the questionable slope is significant, the leader made a judgment, that everyone having avi gear was enough to mitigate the questionable slope. For me they didn't balance out!
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BenA wrote:
BobinCH wrote:

You either have some crystal ball gazing capabilities or you are kidding yourself. No one knows where the next avi is coming and for sure the risk is higher when the avi risk is higher - that's what it's for.


On the contrary, I'm saying that I don't have a crystal ball. How do you respond to a higher level of avi risk? I respond by skiing safer terrain with fewer consequences so that, hopefully, my overall risk level does not increase with the raised avy risk.


I have routes I like skiing. I either ski them or don't ski them. At the moment I'd ski them without a bag. In fresh snow/higher risk I always take a bag. Whatever the conditions I'll try and ski a line that manages the risks. But there are no guarantees.
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BobinCH wrote:
BenA wrote:
BobinCH wrote:

You either have some crystal ball gazing capabilities or you are kidding yourself. No one knows where the next avi is coming and for sure the risk is higher when the avi risk is higher - that's what it's for.


On the contrary, I'm saying that I don't have a crystal ball. How do you respond to a higher level of avi risk? I respond by skiing safer terrain with fewer consequences so that, hopefully, my overall risk level does not increase with the raised avy risk.


I have routes I like skiing. I either ski them or don't ski them. At the moment I'd ski them without a bag. In fresh snow/higher risk I always take a bag. Whatever the conditions I'll try and ski a line that manages the risks. But there are no guarantees.


All I can say is that we think very differently. I would never (consciously at least) let the fact that I was or wasn't wearing a pack, influence my route decisions or risks that I took when touring.
For clarity, I'm not saying that I wouldn't carry an airbag (I have), and I recognise #andanotherthing's point that it gives just another layer of safety which is compelling - I just wouldn't like the bag to influence my decisions.
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It's the conditions, not the bag that influences the route. If the risk is higher I'll always take a bag. If they are low maybe not
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I ski with my OH and yesterday we'd planned to go touring.

As we had an early start night before we were getting the kit together and she saw I was not using my ABS (I hardly ever use it for Spring touring), and asked if she should take her's.

My response was that I did not think it was necessary, however it was her decision.

Now it's all very well when a guide advises in this way to you and your friends, but with a husband / wife it's a tad more complicated rolling eyes

I had complete faith in a new route that we'd be doing and presumably she didn't, so at the end of the day she chose to lug the bag up the mountain.

Next time we do the same route, she will not bother with it.
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Some very interesting approaches to making the decision of whether or not to use a bag. Thanks.

I suppose when in doubt, take one.

I'll see if there's any deals on airbags in the shops in Cham on Friday.
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capability wrote:
I'll see if there's any deals on airbags in the shops in Cham on Friday.


Cham has great ski shops, with extensive stock and expert staff, but I've never seen deals on anything there!
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BenA wrote:
Interesting comments above about the avy risk.

I don't feel any greater need for an airbag in higher avy conditions - my fundamental objective for selection of route / itinerary is to try keep my exposure to avalanche risk at about the level that I am comfortable with, no matter what the conditions.

Saying that you would take an airbag in higher avy risk conditions seems to be saying that you would be taking greater risks in those conditions. Something to think about?

Does the same school of though eliminate the need for a beeper as well?
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capability wrote:
Heading out to Cham on a mountain tracks touring course next week and am debating whether I should hire an airbag or not.

By the looks of things the snowpack is fairly stable, and I don't really want the added weight unless I can get hold of a lightweight model. On the other hand, if it makes the trip safer I should have it.


Hopefully after the course you will now know the right answer.

Think about the kind of risks you face at this time of year touring
Think about what kind of risks an airbag will protect you from.
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Mother hucker wrote:
BenA wrote:
Interesting comments above about the avy risk.

I don't feel any greater need for an airbag in higher avy conditions - my fundamental objective for selection of route / itinerary is to try keep my exposure to avalanche risk at about the level that I am comfortable with, no matter what the conditions.

Saying that you would take an airbag in higher avy risk conditions seems to be saying that you would be taking greater risks in those conditions. Something to think about?

Does the same school of though eliminate the need for a beeper as well?


If you are asking that question of me then I clearly haven't communicated my point as that was the same question that I raised halfway up the page!

The question raised at the start was that people would wear an airbag in more risky conditions and not in lower risk conditions. My question was the same as yours - if you take your airbag off in low risk conditions then why not your beacon? My point is that I would not take my beacon (or airbag) off just because the avy level is rated low. I think that broadly I am just as exposed on a level 2 day as I would be on a level 4 day because of what I'm prepared to ski.

My fundamental principle is that whatever the avalanche conditions, I try to keep my exposure to that risk about the same through what routes I choose to ski. An airbag is a useful additional protection but the factors that would make me decide whether to take one would be the kind of tour that I was doing, what sort of terrain / hazards I would be exposed to etc... not the reported avy level.

I take the point made by andanotherthing / weathercam that if you have a very conservative itinerary on a level 1 day then you could think about reducing the number of toys that you take, but I rarely find myself in this situation - I'm nearly always moderating my route choice based on the avy level.

Bottom line, on a level 5 day, I'm in the pub and my need for an airbag is no greater than it is on a level 1 day, when I'm skiing open exposed faces.
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One final point - what people seem to be saying above (either knowingly or not) is that they factoring in wearing an airbag as a mitigating factor when making decisions skiing on the backcountry. I'm not say that is right or wrong - but there is often plenty of debate about whether these sorts of devices improve safety because of the thinking that with additional safety devices (helmets / airbags or whatever) people take more risks, and in that light, the conversation above is very interesting.
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If I ski offpiste I always take full avi gear with me regardless avi conditions... Its true that I carry some extra weight, but I don't want to find myself in situation where avi gear make a difference. By full avi gear I mean shovel, beacon, probe and airbag.
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BenA wrote:
One final point - what people seem to be saying above (either knowingly or not) is that they factoring in wearing an airbag as a mitigating factor when making decisions skiing on the backcountry.


The problem here is that when making these decisions, you never know the quality of your decision, only the binary outcome. Plenty of guides get caught and they have more experience than I'll ever have. Using an airbag to swing the odds of survival in your favor doesn't seem folly ?

Interestingly, over the last few days I've skied off piste for the first time in years without beeper, probe and shovel.
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There are many great facts and arguments here. Its something I have been thinking a lot about recently as in the last few weeks I have not been skiing with my airbag pack despite getting into more dangerous and steeper terrain.

One argument that has not been mentioned, is timing and speed. Light and fast is potentially safer in spring as it gets you moving through terrain that is more time important. That's the main reason I have been ditching the airbag, to save weight and allow me to have more speed to longer days (or to allow the 60 metre rope to fit in my pack). Now you could argue, just get fitter and use it all season. I am fit, I hike with a huge pack in the summer.

This timing and fitness argument also comes into play with the more touristic ski tourer. The weekend warrior who signs up for a haute route. Why struggle with a heavy back pack, that destroys your enjoyment of the route when chances are in spring conditions you won't need to get your handle out. Because of course, if you think you are in dangerous terrain, then you have already made a mistake.
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AndAnotherThing.. wrote:
BenA wrote:
One final point - what people seem to be saying above (either knowingly or not) is that they factoring in wearing an airbag as a mitigating factor when making decisions skiing on the backcountry.


The problem here is that when making these decisions, you never know the quality of your decision, only the binary outcome. Plenty of guides get caught and they have more experience than I'll ever have. Using an airbag to swing the odds of survival in your favor doesn't seem folly ?


No, I'm not arguing against the use of an airbag - I think that using an airbag to increase your odds sounds like an excellent idea, it's just that I'd be inclined to take it out on a level 2 day as much as a level 4 day, because I think it is just as likely that I'll end up in trouble on a level 2 day as a level 4 day.

I read a paper somewhere where they looked at the number of accidents and what the avy forecast was. Most accidents happened on level 2 & 3 days (depending on the region). They then scaled the number of accidents by the number of days forecast at that level and interestingly there wasn't a dramatic difference in the chances of an accident at any particular avy level (except for level 5 IIRC which looked bad but there were so few data points). That suggests that people are largely managing to reduce their exposure on higher risk days. I'll try to find a link.
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@BenA, What would be interesting is to split the data sets to try and ID the level of training of those caught. I'm sure you are correct on the level 2 and 3 days. Thinking as I type, I suspect that level 4 and 5 days could be mitigated by lift closures.

davidof usually does an excellent end of year article for accidents in France but I'm not sure I've seen one for the last couple of seasons ?
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As has been alluded to, if not taking an Avy bag why take arva etc as my OH asks?
My response to that is that I hopefully I'm taking a good route based on aspect time of day etc but would be feckin mortified if over the other side of a S facing bowl people ended up in pooh pooh, how would I feel for not taking right kit and being unable to help, and vice versa?
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Try rating the following as to how much they will help you stay alive.
Phone.
Probe.
Transceiver.
Airbag.
Trained pal.
Cautious attitude.
Avalanche bulletin.
Shovel.
Agreed plan.
Map.
Skins.
Compass.
Altimeter.
Rope.
Training.
Local knowledge.
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BenA wrote:
[
I read a paper somewhere where they looked at the number of accidents and what the avy forecast was. Most accidents happened on level 2 & 3 days (depending on the region). They then scaled the number of accidents by the number of days forecast at that level and interestingly there wasn't a dramatic difference in the chances of an accident at any particular avy level


These are the figures for France since 1999

Level 1: used on 14% of days, 1% of accidents
Level 2: used on 44% of days, 14% of accidents
Level 3: used on 35% of days, 56% of accidents
Level 4: used on 8% of days, 29% of accidents
Level 5: used on 0.3% of days, 0% of accidents

Just looking quickly at these figures they say to me that risk 3 day are misinterpreted by users: they see it as an acceptable level and probably don't read the avalanche bulletin in detail and make route choices based more on ski-ability of a slope than the danger.
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It's pretty simple really... carried weight vs possible outcome.

On terrain I know really well... fuck it, no need to carry anything.

Anything else... evaluate the posible exposure to risk. I've skied on my own in situations where I have connected the trigger, is this right? Maybe not, but I have enjoyed some amazing skiing. On those days I count on no one, I mitigate every possible risk... but... what if I see a perfect line of powder... we all make these choices.
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@Scarpa, I can relate to that.
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I did a 3 day ski tour last week (write up to follow) including a couple of peaks in the Mt Blanc Massif. Neither I, my mate or our guide carried ABS. None of the other parties we saw on the mountain were using them. I have 2 ABS packs in my "cave".
Now the avalanche risk was very low (after we got back the risk level in resort was listed at "1" - not sure I've ever seen below 2 before) but the bigger issue is that the weight of an ABS system on top of glacier kit, boot crampons, couteau, ice axe, etc etc makes the vertical of big mountain tours a bit too arduous. Our guide said that he only uses ABS for freeride / lift served. Happily, classic late season touring on neve and spring snow is less avalanche prone than earlier season touring in powder.
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