February 14, 2012

Avalanche Fatality – Airbag Deployed

Great sadness fills me as I learn that 38-year-old Telluride resident Nate Soules was killed by an avalanche yesterday in the Bear Creek backcountry. The Telluride Watch says Soules was wearing an airbag pack, which he successfully deployed. However, the airbag was reportedly found by rescuers in a 'shredded' condition.

This marks I believe the first time in North America (perhaps anywhere) that a skier wearing an airbag pack was killed in an avalanche following successful deployment.

The widespread release of airbag packs into the North American market has been accompanied by speculation that airbags may prove less effective here (as compared to Europe) due to our predominantly treed avalanche terrain, which increases the threat of trauma to both rider and device. There are also fears that airbags may embolden some riders to go when and where they otherwise would not. No doubt as more details are released there will be considerable discussion of this incident. I'll link to the Colorado Avalanche Center report when it becomes available.

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When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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