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Wilderness Environ Med. 2002 Summer;13(2):143-52.

Technological advances in avalanche survival.

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1
Department of Medicine, Granger Medical Clinic, West Valley City, UT 84120, USA. sshinn10@aol.com

Abstract

Over the last decade, a proliferation of interest has emerged in the area of avalanche survival, yielding both an improved understanding of the pathophysiology of death after avalanche burial and technological advances in the development of survival equipment. The dismal survival statistics born out of the modern era of winter recreation unmistakably reveal that elapsed time and depth of burial are the most critical variables of survival and the focus of newer survival devices on the market. Although blunt trauma may kill up to one third of avalanche victims, early asphyxiation is the predominant mechanism of death, and hypothermia is rare. A survival plateau or delay in asphyxiation may be seen in those buried in respiratory communication with an air pocket until a critical accumulation of CO2 or an ice lens develops. The newest survival devices available for adjunctive protection, along with a transceiver and shovel, are the artificial air pocket device (AvaLung), the avalanche air bag system (ABS), and the Avalanche Ball. The artificial air pocket prolongs adequate respiration during snow burial and may improve survival by delaying asphyxiation. The ABS, which forces the wearer to the surface of the avalanche debris by inverse segregation to help prevent burial, has been in use in Europe for the last 10 years with an impressive track record. Finally, the Avalanche Ball is a visual locator device in the form of a spring-loaded ball attached to a tether, which is released from a fanny pack by a rip cord. Despite the excitement surrounding these novel technologies, avalanche avoidance through knowledge and conservative judgment will always be the mainstay of avalanche survival, never to be replaced by any device.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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