Twice a year, industry professionals get together to show off the latest and greatest new outdoor products at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, Utah. Companies— both the big names like Petzl, Black Diamond, Mammut, Arcteryx, as well as the up and coming startups— have the opportunity to show off their new products. Below is an overview of some of the cutting edge avalanche and ski mountaineering innovations that were on display at the Winter Outdoor Retailer Show and will be in your local stores soon!
Avalanche airbags are a proven technique to reduce injury and increase avalanche survival rates. The concept of increasing the surface area and volume of the victim to help them float in an avalanche (see: the Brazil nut effect) remains the same through all current airbag offerings. Companies seem to be trending away from velcro closure, now opting for a more reliable breakaway zipper. Gas canister based airbags are transitioning away from compressed air and moving toward inert gases like compressed nitrogen and argon (so there is no phase change when triggered) to decrease inflation time.
Arva has stopped selling ABS airbags to pursue their own new model, the Reactor Series. This airbag had by far the smallest and lightest canister while still having competitive inflation times. The airbag consists of two chambers separated by a membrane in case one gets punctured. Arguably the coolest feature is that the user can practice pulling the trigger without firing the airbag (as long as the canister is not attached) to get a sense of what it’s like.
Mammut will continue to offer two different shapes of airbags: the protection airbag system and the removable airbag system. They have integrated more trigger customization in their new airbag packs, allowing the user to adjust the location of the trigger up and down on the shoulder strap to account for users of different heights.
Update from Mammut: “the Mammut RAS system will be about 20% lighter and take up about 30% less room in your pack than the current version. There is a 20l ultralight model that comes in at 4lb 3oz and the 30l Light at 5lb 6oz for the entire pack, airbag and cartridge ready to ski. The PAS system only sheds a few ounces, but the fit is much better for smaller people.”
ABS is continuing their line of Vario packs with the addition of some new electronics. Using a USB rechargeable battery, the new Vario-base will include status lights as well as the ability to remotely trigger your friends’ airbags. It has different configurations so one user can trigger the entire group or just an individual. The current range for remote activation is 350-500 meters. This technology can also be added to older ABS packs.
There has been a lot of talk about the new Arcteryx Voltair airbag pack. Similar to the Black Diamond/Pieps Jetforce packs, it also uses a fan system. In case of a tear the centrifugal fan pulses every five seconds for the first minute. The battery is good for about eight pulls and the airbag is shaped to protect the head and neck. Alternatively, BD Jetforce bags automatically deflate after three minutes, with the intent of creating an air pocket if buried. The Voltair packs will come in two sizes (20L and 30L) and have only a main pouch and a google compartment (no dedicated shovel/probe pocket).
Arva, the first company to use two full sized antenna in their beacons, is launching a new model called the AXIO with three full-sized antenna. Simply fold down the z-axis antenna for a 60 meter spherical search range, the largest on the market. This beacon also comes with the now-standard advanced features, including an optional analog mode and multi-burial marking.
The new Mammut Pulse Baryvox is capable of doing the final grid search for you. It will take you forward and back, then side to side. When it thinks you are as close as possible it will tell you to begin probing.
Black Diamond/Pieps has released a new beacon that is super lightweight and runs on only a single battery. When doing the initial search (maximum range of 45 meters), the beacon will vibrate when it detects a signal to allow the user to focus on making a uniform search pattern. To decrease weight and increase ease of use, this new Pieps beacon only has an on/off switch. To activate search mode, simply remove the beacon from its holster and a proximity sensor will engage the search process. Guides that want to make sure their clients are in search mode can just tell them all to take out their beacons and let them hang out of the holsters.
Pieps is also launching an updated version of the iProbe, an avalanche probe with a transmitter in the tip. The probe will beep when within two meters of a signal and will give off a constant tone when within 50 centimeters. This is great for near-misses and victims not lying flat in the snow. The iProbe allows searchers to do a quick scan of a large area in a shallow slide. It comes in 270 centimeters and 310 centimeters but has an additional effective range of 50 centimeters due to its sensing technology. The iProbe is also capable of disabling Pieps beacons when within 50 centimeters to help in multi-burial situations.
Other Notable Ski Mountaineering Gear
Grivel has begun manufacturing step-in crampons for ski boots. Intended to reduce clutter in the back of the ski boot (walk/ski mode and buckles), the engineers moved the tensioner to the front of the boot.
Black Diamond/Pieps is now selling the 30° Plus, a simple device to measure slope angle and ambient temperature which can attach to any ski/trekking pole.
In addition to the new airbag line, Arcteryx will also be launching a new series of boots called the Procline Series (Carbon, Mens, and Womens). Designed to be a mountaineering boot that can ski or snowboard, the boot has a fully integrated gaiter and unparalleled walk mode. Using a two piece split-cuff, the Procline Series has more than enough frictionless forward and backward rotation as well as up to 36° of lateral rotation to allow for easier skinning across slopes. The shells are incredibly light and come with two liner options, lite and support. A pair of 27.5 carbon shells with the lite liners weighs in at only 2.6 pounds! Arcteryx is estimating the flex rating to be about 110.
Petzl had an impressive list of new ultralight ski mountaineering products. The new Altitude harness weighs in at only 150 grams and compresses to about the size of a baseball. It can be put on with skis and ski boots due to a clever clip on system and is mostly made of dyneema. Its “bigger brother,” the Tour, weighs in at 200 grams.
Continuing the dyneema trend, Petzl is launching the Leopard and Irvis Hybrid (330 grams and 460 grams) crampons. Both are standard Petzl 10 point crampons, but the center bar has been replaced with dyneema cord. Their new rope, the Volta Guide, is thinner and dry-treated with only 2% water absorption, the best in the industry.
K2 will be releasing a new pair of asymmetric skis (the Marksman) designed to be more playful in deep snow. Salomon is also unveiling a new four-piece splitboard (the Premiere). The center piece splits in half and gets strapped to the pack to mimic the control of skinning on skis.
With all of these cool new products launching soon, be sure to keep an eye out at your favorite outdoor retailer to update your kit!