February 21, 2012

Life-saving Backpack

A closer look at the airbag device that helped one skier survive a deadly avalanche in Washington.

Gary: There are a lot of people who are devastated. Authorities say several groups were skiing in an out-of-bounds area on the backside of the mountain when the packed snow suddenly gave way. Four of the skiers were basically shot down a chute of about 1,500 feet. Three of those skiers were buried under the snow. The three were expert skiers including Jim Jack, a competitor and judge on the Freeskiing world tour.

“I knew him, skied with him all the time. He was just a good guy all around.”

Gary: One person survived by using an avalanche escape device. It is sort of like an airbag in a backpack.

“Once an avalanche has you, you’re not going anywhere.”

Gary: Professional snowboarder Meesh Hynter knows exactly how it works. She used the device for the first time just a few weeks ago and it saved her life.

Meesh Hynter: I see the ground in front of me ripple. It was like the earth was breathing. There’s nothing you can do in that situation.

Gary: Meesh had been snowboarding in a backcountry slope in Colorado when she was caught in an avalanche. She pulled the cord on the airbag device and it kept her on top of the snow as she rode the snow slide down the mountain.

The $800 escape device is not something most snowboarders carry, and until that day, Meesh didn’t either.

Meesh: My parents got it for me for christmas. It was the best gift I ever had.

Gary: An average of 25 people die in avalanches every winter here in the United States. The deaths in Washington state this past weekend bring the total to 17 this year.

Most avalanches occur in the backcountry and not on the groomed slopes of ski resorts. And that is why the experts say to stay safe, don’t ski off course.

“Stay away, just stay away. Err on the side of caution.”


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