As more skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers travel into the backcountry, they run the risk of being caught in an avalanche. The majority of people killed by avalanches are not crushed to death. Rather, they suffocate, which may seem surprising given that snow is generally at least 50% air. Now a Salt Lake City-based company, Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd., has come up with a device that enables an avalanche victim to breathe that air. The AvaLung is a lightweight vest that can be worn for virtually any outdoor activity. Should a person become buried in a snowpack, he or she can draw in air through a mouthpiece attached to the vest's collar. It is connected by a tube to a membrane on the outside of the vest that filters oxygen from the snow.
Black Diamond takes pains to point out that AvaLung "is not intended to replace [other avalanche safety equipment, such as] beacons, probes, good judgment or able companions." The AvaLung will sustain someone for about an hour, significantly increasing the chances for survival. More information on the vest, which retails for about $200, is available at www.avalung.com or by calling 970-963-4073.