Wednesday, November 21, 2012


This is a 15L Powder Line pack, the one I use 90% of the time

This backpack saved my life last winter when I was in a 2700' avalanche in the backcountry off Stevens Pass. There were three others caught in the avalanche who did not survive. I was the only one wearing this backpack and was the only survivor. My ABS pack saved my life and I hope they will continue to help save lives in the future. For me, the ABS brand pack is the standard for avalanche airbags and here is why I think so.

To begin, the dual airbag system ensures that if one inflation fails or one bag is damaged by trees, etc. you will still have at least one airbag fully inflated. Additionally, ABS is using new technology with their bag materials which creates a much lighter and much stronger bag. The airbag material is the same material used on zodiac boats which means that it is nearly impossible to shred if punctured. The trigger mechanism is a nearly fail safe pneumatic system that only takes approximately 18 pounds of force over 2 cm's to trigger inflation. Non-pnuematic systems can take up to 45 pounds of pressure over 6 inches in length trigger inflation. From my experience, once you're caught in an avalanche things happens so fast that the easier a trigger is to pull the better.
Skiing at Mt. Baker Photo: Grant Gunderson
I also love the fact that the ABS is constructed of a base system that has the airbag safety system in it, and the actual backpack is zipped on allowing for different size packs to be attached. This, I believe, makes buying this pack a worthy investment because you are able to have different sized packs for different types of days. 90% of the time I use the Powder 15L, which fits my shovel, probe, some food, water, an extra pair of gloves, a thin layer, a few other small things, and my skins (at that point it's starting to get pretty tight). If I need more gear than this I would use the Vario 25L (or 40L). Please note that the Powder Line and the Vario Line are not interchangeable. I prefer the Powder Line because it is a little less bulky that the Vario system, but it is more limiting with only having the 5L and 15L as the two sizes. So, if you need that larger 40L the Vario would be the way to go.
These ABS backpacks are very durable (and I'm talking about the base system). My backpack went through some heavy forces in the avalanche so ABS did an integrity check on my pack. The pack was found to be completely intact and in perfect working condition, so I am still using the same base system.

The pack includes straps and an exterior helmet holder, so you can dangle stuff off if need be. The ski carry system is just okay (using the straps that are included), but it works and the pack is so awesome it is not the biggest deal to me. The waist buckle is strong and easy to use, I don't have to take my mittens off to lock and unlock the steel buckle.

ABS uses a nitrogen cartridge which makes it lighter and smaller than other brands. While some may scoff at the additional weight of an avy bag, the ABS pack does not feel heavy, it fits very snug on the body and I have never felt that my pack has extra weight to it when it's on my back.

Any kind of avalanche safety backpack is not the end all be all device that usurps the necessary knowledge to be in the backcountry, your sound judgement, and the other mandatory backcountry tools such as a transceiver, shovel, and probe. Rather, these backpacks are a last ditch effort if you find yourself in an unfortunate situation of being caught in an avalanche. Accidents can happen and these packs can help save your life. It saved mine.

If you would like to purchase this ABS backpack, or any of the other styles or colors of ABS packs, carries them... Just click on the backpack below:

Monday, November 19, 2012

Women's S.A.F.E. A.S. Workshop

Are you SAFE AS...

Lel Tone researching the avy forecast in the morning...
Michelle Parker checking beacons prior to departure...
Elyse Saugstad practicing proper travel techniques...
Ingrid Backstrom assessing the snow pack in the field...
Jackie Paaso knowing how to due a proper beacon search...
Sherry McConkey continuing to refresh her knowledge over time...

Do you know how to be as S.A.F.E.  A.S. us?
Skiers Advocating and Fostering Education for Avalanche and Snow Safety.....

Lel, Michelle, Ingrid, Jackie, Sherry, and myself are proud to present with Squaw Valley, Wildflour Bakery, and the High Fives Foundation a S.A.F.E. A.S. Women's Introductory Clinic on Avalanche and Snow Safety as a FUNdraiser for High Fives...

WHAT: Women's Intro to Avalanche Safety and FUNdraiser Day with classroom and on-snow training, morning yoga, delicious and healthy Wildflour Lunch, and apres party and raffle at Rocker.

WHERE: Squaw Valley

WHEN: The main event is December 8, 7am-5pm with an informal, optional Wine Social at Uncorked at 6pm Dec. 7

WHO FOR: Women, ages 14 and older who are interested in snow and avalanche safety in and out of bounds and who enjoy a good time for a good cause.  Participants are asked to provide their own avalanche beacon, shovel, probe, and backpack.  Maximum of 30 participants.

WHO BY: Taught by Squaw Valley's own avalanche forecaster, Alaska heli-ski guide, and AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) Avalanche Instructor Lel Tone, hosted by ski professionals Elyse Saugstad, Michelle Parker, Jackie Paaso, and Ingrid Backstrom, with yoga by certified instructor Sherry McConkey.

WHY: We hope this event will:
                --Heighten community snow safety and avalanche awareness
                --Foster an open, welcoming environment by which to encourage participation and communication
                --Provide a really fun experience for everyone
                --Raise money and awareness for High Fives BASICS, an amazing cause bringing snow       safety into schools

HOW MUCH: $80 - Includes yoga, classroom and small group on-snow instruction and skiing/snowboarding plus lunch and light apres. Tickets will be included for those who do not have Squaw season passes. All proceeds go to charity.

Additional support provided by Uncorked, The McConkey Foundation, Rocker, Women of Winter. Sponsored by Salomon, Helly Hansen, Arcade, Mountain Hardwear, The North Face, First Ascent, Scott, Anon, Kask, and


Upper left: Lel Tone, Ingrid Backstrom, Elyse Saugstad Lower left: Jackie Paaso, Michelle Parker, Sherry McConkey

Lead Instructor Lel Tone has been a member of the Squaw Valley Ski Patrol since 1994 and the Assistant Avalanche Forecaster since 2004. Lel has been a helicopter ski guide in Alaska for Chugach Powder Guides and Tordrillo Mountain Lodge for the last 14 years. She is a licensed Avalanche Blaster in the state of California and an Avalanche control route leader at Squaw. She is an AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) Level 1 and 2 Avalanche Instructor. Lel has been teaching avalanche courses in our local community and around the West for the last 10 plus years.

Ingrid Backstrom is considered to be one of the most influential professional big mountain skiers in the world. She has appeared in 9 Matchstick Productions movies, three Warren Miller Entertainment Films, ‘All.I.Can.’ by the Rocky Mountain Sherpas, the documentary Steep, and has won Powder Magazine’s ‘Best Female Performance’ five times. She considers herself extremely fortunate that skiing has taken her all around the globe, including Pakistan, Antarctica, Greenland, and first descents in Baffin Island and on 20,000ft. Reddomaine Peak in China.  She has AIARE Level 1 certification.

Elyse Saugstad was raised in Girdwood, Alaska and since that time became passionately involved with freeride and backcountry skiing as a professional skier. Between 2007 and 2009 Elyse won many International Freeride Competitions she entered and in 2008 was crowned the Freeride World Tour Champion. For the past few years she has worked with many noteworthy ski film companies  such as Salomon Freeski TV and graced the pages of ski magazines around the globe. Elyse has worked with Chugach Powder Guides as a guest athlete. She has AIARE Level 1 certification.

Jackie Paaso has been a professional skier and a member of the Squaw Valley Freeride Team since 2009. She spends the majority of her winters competing on the Freeride World Tour and has many notable results like winning the 2010 Squaw Tram Face event and the 2012 Chamonix event. This past spring she filmed with Warren Miller Entertainment for their 2012 movie “Flow State” exploring the Norwegian Arctic. Jackie has been expanding her knowledge of big mountains and avalanche terrain all over the world. She has AIARE Level 1 certification.

Michelle Parker is a 25 year old professional skier who was born and raised in Squaw Valley and has been a member of the Squaw Valley Freeride Team since 2006. She films with Matchstick Productions and is featured in the latest film ‘Superheroes of Stoke’, whereupon this past fall she was awarded IF3’s ‘Best Female Performance’. Michelle is addicted to chasing winter in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and spends most of her time in the mountains skiing, climbing, hiking, and biking. Michelle has AIARE Level 1 certification.

Sherry McConkey is an outdoor enthusiast who has been teaching yoga for seven years. She is a certified Anusara teacher, a form of yoga that focuses on alignment. Anusara is great for athletes to help with restorative stretching/yoga whereupon your body can heal, gain strength, clear the mind, and ultimately enhance your athletic performance. Sherry is also the founder of the Shane McConkey Foundation, a Tahoe non-profit organization. Sherry is in the process of being AIARE Level 1 certified.

Let's stay safe in the mountains so we can have as much FUN as possible!