Skiing in the backcountry is an incredible experience. Unfortunately, it’s also a very dangerous experience. Lack of ski patrol means, if you injure yourself, rescue parties take a lot longer than they would on resort. And, of course, there’s always the risk of avalanches. Fortunately, there are ways to limit that danger. Individuals can take courses to learn about mitigating the danger of an avalanche. Beacons, probes, and shovels make it easier for parties to rescue avalanche victims in shorter periods of time, and avalanche airbags give those caught in an avalanche a decent chance of staying above the snow.
With all of those classes and devices, however, the risk is only limited, not completely removed. According to the Utah Avalanche Center, 93% of avalanche victims can survive the incident if recovered within 15 minutes. After that 15 minute period, however, those numbers drop. In just 45 minutes, only around 20-30% of victims have the potential to survive, and in 2 hours, almost no one has a chance of survival. One Norwegian company, however, has set out to up those chances of survival through the Safeback SBX.
Avalanche caused deaths don’t result from a lack of oxygen. Dense avalanche debris sits at around 60-70% air. Instead, victims succumb to carbon dioxide poisoning as gas builds up in the snow around them. The SBX seeks to limit that carbon dioxide buildup by pumping oxygen into the snow surrounding one’s mouth while pushing away the built up carbon dioxide. When an avalanche strikes, victims pull the t-shaped handle located on the shoulder strap, activating a fan located in the SBX Clean Air Intake placed on one’s back. That fan pumps oxygen from an area lacking CO2 buildup to the Clean Air Outlets on the wearer’s shoulders.
One major detail regarding this device is that it doesn’t require a mouthpiece. Of course, if avalanche victims could stick a mouthpiece in their mouth while buried, I’m sure there would be fantastic technology allowing an even greater chance of survival. But, when you’re stuck under avalanche debris, there’s a very good chance you won’t be able to move your arms very much, meaning a mouthpiece just isn’t very reliable.
The company claims that the device can extend the survival window from 15 minutes to 90 minutes, increasing the chance of a successful rescue. Of course, when any products come around claiming to reduce the risk of avalanches, you have to be skeptical. This company, however, has done their testing and research, and I’m comfortable saying it definitely has potential. As always, it can’t guarantee survival, but seeing a product that increases chance of survival after being caught in an avalanche makes me a little more comfortable.
The Safeback SBX is set to release during the 2023/24 ski season, and once it’s out, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more information relating to its capabilities.
Image Credit: Safeback – Avalanche Survival Gear via Instagram