A new avalanche safety system is about to be launched onto the market. Called the “Flash Avalanche” the system is a development of the avalanche cords used by ski tourers before the widespread adoption of avalanche beacons. The main advantage is that is consists of four cords which are only deployed in the event of a slide. Aimed at off piste skiers the Flash Avalanche will sell for 55 euros.
The system is worn on the wrist and weighs just 220 grams. The 4 cords are 10 meters long and made of 15mm wide red polyester tape. It is triggered by a hand movement. The cords are, hopefully, dispersed around the victim. Assuming one is visible on the surface the searcher merely has to follow the cord. The system has a patent application and will be available in September 2008.
We’ve several doubts about the device. Although visual indications are often responsible for the rescue of avalanche victims we are normally talking about skis or poles visible on the surface and still attached to the skier. This implies that the victim is not deeply buried which is another key factor in avalanche survival. The idea behind the avalanche cord was that it was made of strong but thin cord and the distance to the victim was marked on the cord. A searcher could pull on the cord and cut through the snow until it he was vertically above the victim. The distance marks would give the burial depth. It is not clear if the polyester cords of the Flash Avalanche will be strong enough to cut through avalanche debris. Searchers could be faced with a considerable longitudinal dig to the victim. We are also concerned whether the device would be robust enough to resist being ripped off the victim’s wrist by the considerable forces of an avalanche. Finally how practical is the triggering mechanism? Take a look at the web site and judge for yourself. Flash Avalanche quotes from the ANENA (French Avalanche Research Institute), however the ANENA is sceptical about avalanche cords.
The Flash Avalanche is not the only such device on the market. The avalanche ball is a spring loaded ball with cord that attaches to a skiers rucksack.