Air bag becoming standard equipment for skiers

Feb 21, 2012

The air bag credited with saving a woman from an avalanche at Stevens Pass is starting to become standard equipment for back country skiers in the Northwest. The expert skiers who seek the thrill of more remote areas are no strangers to signs of avalanches.

Rhen Lyden knows the tell-tale signs that an avalanche is about to start.

“You'll see the snow fracture and it looks a lot like broken glass, like shattered glass,” Lynden says.

When that happens he’s usually able to ski or snowboard over to a safe area, like a ridge top. But that's not always possible. It wasn't for Elyse Saugstad , one of the four back country skiers swept down the mountain at Stevens Pass on Sunday. Three of them died. But Saugstad survived by inflating an air bag.

Lyden demonstrates one at the Ski Shack in Hayden, Idaho, where he’s the manager.

“You pull your rip cord here on your strap ...” he says.

CO2 fills the bags and helps the skier slide over the snow instead of sinking into it.

The three skiers who died at Stevens Pass -- along with a snowboarder at Snoqualmie -- were in what's known as an “out of bounds” area. It's not against the rules to be there. But experts say these back country spots are much more prone to avalanches.