The avalanche safety device brand Safeback has partnered with two different brands to incorporate an innovative, award-winning avalanche airflow system into backcountry backpacks and vests.
A person’s chance of surviving an avalanche burial is 95% if they’re rescued within 15 minutes. After that, the chances of survival decrease by 3% per minute. By the 35-minute mark, there’s only a 37% chance a victim will be alive when they’re pulled out of the snow.
That risk is a cold hard reality for backcountry skiers and boarders. Luckily, there are devices that can help increase your chances of survival in a serious avalanche. ABS packs have been around since the late ’90s. They provide emergency flotation that can increase a skier or boarder’s chance of surviving a snow slide by as much as 50%.
But even those packs can’t help after a person is buried. Once they go under and the snow settles, survival is dependent on their oxygen supply. And that can diminish very quickly.
Other devices, such as the Avalung, help victims breathe in fresher air by pulling it from their back. But the Avalung requires the person to get a mouthpiece into their mouth during the avalanche.
Enter the Safeback. The battery-powered device pumps air from around the burial victim’s back through two hoses to around the victim’s mouth. The goal is to pump oxygen-rich air toward their mouth to extend their survival time during burial.
Safeback Aims to Extend Survival Time in Avalanche Burial
Tor Berge, André Mjølhus, and Sigmund Andreassen are Norwegian engineers and backcountry skiing enthusiasts. They designed Safeback to address a big problem in avalanche burials — the short time rescuers have to recover victims.
Their solution, Safeback SBX, is pretty revolutionary. They say it could extend the survival time of a buried individual up to 90 minutes. Yes, this is a big deal, and others agree. It has already won an ISPO innovation award before even hitting the market.
The company just announced a partnership with two different backcountry gear brands, which will be incorporating the Safeback SBX system into their 2023 gear lineups.
“Safeback SBX has been developed based on four important fields of expertise,” Tor Berge, co-founder and CEO of Safeback, said in a press release.
“Medical, focusing on requirements for survival during avalanche burial. Mechanical, focusing on gas transport through snow and how to influence it. Technical, focusing on building a system that delivers according to the medical requirements. And practical user trials, to satisfy even the most demanding backcountry user.”
Safeback SBX: Fresh Air in a Burial
The Safeback SBX system is about the same size as an avalanche beacon. Partner brands integrate it into backcountry ski-specific packs.
Activated by the same kind of T-handle as the inflatable ABS system, the Safeback SBX has outlet hoses running through the backpack’s shoulder straps.
When activated, an air pump in the backpack pulls air from outside of the pack, from the surrounding snow, and through the hoses. It pumps this air into the victim’s air pocket around their face. No mouthpiece is necessary.
It’s like a scuba tank for avalanches. But instead of carrying air in a tank, it pumps it from snow behind the buried victim.
Safeback just announced partnerships with Db and Bergans, two other Norwegian brands. Both Db and Bergans specialize in winter backcountry gear and were excited to break ground designing packs that integrated the Safeback SBX system. They will truly be the first of their kind.
Db used the Safeback SBX in an avalanche vest that will be available in fall 2023. Bergans incorporated the system into its Y MountainLine Daypack 40L pack. This pack also won an ISPO award in 2022. It will be available in the winter season of 2023-2024.
And Safeback isn’t stopping there. The company already has plans to partner with three to four more backcountry ski backpack brands for the winter 2023-2024 season. So you’ll probably see a lot more of this system in the coming years.
“Our goal is to maximize the number of lives we save with the SBX system, so we will not offer any single producer exclusivity over our product,” notes Safeback on its website.
“We are very excited to finally be able to share what we’ve been working on. If you have any questions, would like to receive further details about testing, or are interested in partnership, please use the form below to get in touch.”