Name: Black Diamond JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack
Pros: travel-friendly, multiple deployments, easy to refill/recharge
Cons: heavy, expensive
Overview: The Black Diamond JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack is the first electronic avalanche airbag system on the market. The jet-fan technology allows for multiple deployments and is travel friendly. So whether you are headed out on foot, being dropped from the heli or just dipping out into the sidecountry the JetForceAvalanche Airbag Pack could mean all the difference. Despite all the features and weight the Black Diamond JetForce doesn’t sacrifice “rideability,” it’s not bulky and stays nicely in place for the shred down. The comfortable suspension lets me be completely unaware that I have a giant airbag strapped to my back, allowing me to focus on my surroundings and enjoy the turns to the bottom.
The JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack is powered by a compact Lithium-Ion battery. At a full charge, Black Diamond claims the airbag will be able to deploy four times. One advantage to this the option to repack the airbag in a close call, or after a slide while still in dangerous terrain. An additional plus to this system is the ability to test it out often, on both deployment and repacking. Like training with your beacon, the more often you use the airbag the more likely you are to be prepared to use it properly in a moment of need. With pricey canisters, I have never been willing to test one over and over in my living room.
At almost 200-liters the airbag can be filled in less than 3 seconds, with the jet-fan rotor spinning at 60,000 revolutions per minute. After inflation, the fan continues to pulse, which could keep the airbag filled even in the case of a tear in the bag. After 3 minutes, the airbag automatically deflates, reducing pressure on the user. In the case of a full burial, this can create an hollow space that increases the chance of survival.
The JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack initially seems more complex, with electrical components. But like a pilot preparing for takeoff, this system allows skiers to check all instruments before descending. The power button, when held down, will flash how much charge, or deployments, remain. And when you are ready to drop a self-check briefly fires the fan letting you know your airbag and system are just as ready as you are. This extra step seems a detractor at first, but it is just as simple as turning on your beacon, and confirming everyone in your party is beeping.
Value: This bag is certainly one of the more expensive options on the market. But it is also a one-time cost, versus the cost to constantly refill cannisters.
Use: The Black Diamond pack is well-structured with ample storage for everything you need on an all day tour. The thing that surprised me the most is the weight distribution. The pack itself is about 8 pounds, and when fully prepared to head out for the day I had shovel, probe, radio, inReach, hydration pouch, DSLR camera, and of course snacks. Yet once settled on my shoulders the weight is barely noticeable. The hip pack sits lightly on my hips and yet doesn’t pull on my shoulders. Maybe it is just that I am used to carrying so much camera gear, but I have no problem heading up hill with the JetForce Avalanche Airbag Pack fully packed. The back panel also unzips to easily access all the contents, rather than having to dig down from the top. On the exterior there are additional features that make this pack perfect for any backcountry mission. There are both ski and snowboard carry systems, a pocket for the necessary avalanche tools and a helmet holder.
I am a photographer and journalist and have traveled all over the world, only to end up in a little place called Aspen. I work hard and play hard in the outdoors. I am a long time snowboarder (park, all mountain, and back country) and a new addition to skiing. I also Stand Up Paddle board mostly in the rivers (class I-III) but also in the ocean when I can escape the mountains. I also hike, rock climb, wakeboard, surf and do yoga and generally explore my backyard in the Rockies.
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