An Avalanche Bag is often considered a piece of gear vital only for backcountry skiers, ice climbers and high-alpine mountaineers, who most frequently venture into avalanche terrain. But snowmobilers are a large market for these reliable pieces of safety gear; those adventurous enough to ride the thrilling vehicles into avalanche-prone areas are at just as much risk as your best alpine skier. To stay safe, they’ll want to wear the best avy bag they possibly can.
Why Get an Avalanche Bag?
A good avalanche bag provides the rider extra buoyancy and float, and also increases their relative mass and size. Due to granular convection, colloquially Brazil Nut Effect, the largest objects in an avalanche will rise to the top while smaller objects sink – sort of like how if you shake a bowl of nuts, the largest nuts – Brazil nuts in the example – will rise to the top while the smaller nuts like peanuts and cashews – will sink the bottom.
It might sound silly to compare an avalanche to a snack, but the same concept. Wearing an avalanche bag gives you more mass, and hopefully helps you stay on top of the slab when caught out in an avalanche.
Best Avalanche Bag For Snowmobilers: How to Choose
So what makes an avalanche bag a good choice for snowmobilers, as opposed to one for skiers?
There’s really one factor here that is important: trigger location.
As snowmobile throttles are generally located on the right, snowmobilers will want to locate the avalanche bag trigger on the left, so they can keep one hand on the throttle while still being able to access the trigger. This isn’t too difficult, thankfully, as most airbags have their triggers located on the left side. Some are even interchangeable, allowing you to switch the trigger between sides.
Since you’re riding on a snowmobile and not hiking or skiing, you can probably carry more weight and a large airbag than you might otherwise. Most airbags are roughly the same size but using them in a larger backpack means more storage space and marginally more mass for staying afloat.
There are a few things that set the Ortovox Ascent 30 apart as our top avalanche bag for snowmobilers. When it comes to premium snow gear, Ortovox knows what they are doing, and the Ascent Avabag 30 is proof of that. It’s a durable, high-end bag that hits all the main points we’re looking for, with an easy-to-use and compact airbag system inside.
The bag itself is a standard daypack, made from a 420D Oxford HD nylon, and 100D Robic Ripstop. The PU-coating means it is waterproof, and the zippers are water-resistant. We love the sleek design, and how compact and low-profile many of the attachments and loops are capable of being. There are loops for ice axes and picks, a removable helmet net, rope attachments, and D-Skifix. The compression straps are able to keep things tight and in place while the chest strap boasts a safety whistle – which could come in handy when an avalanche hits.
As for the airbag system, it uses our preferred setup: a compressed air and gas canister system with no moving parts, batteries or electronics; just air and a bag. The less moving parts the airbag has, the easier it is to use, the less maintenance it requires, and the more reliable it will be; you don’t want to be dealing with a dead battery or broken fan in the mountains, as you might be with some other setups.
Altogether, the bag weighs only 41 ounces – about 2.5 pounds. That’s a light bag whether you’re on skis or riding a snowmobile. The airbag system clocks in at 690g. It’s also, by our count, one of the larger airbags in terms of air capacity.
Our only complaint is how expensive the refill cartridges are – about $190 from Ortovox. We highly recommend carrying at least one spare in your snowmobile kit, if not more, in case of accidental or false-alarm deployment.
Just remember – no matter how good the airbag is or how much you paid for it, nothing can replace proper training and skills in recognizing avalanche terrain and avoiding it. Never ride your snowmobile anywhere you’re unsure of. Use an airbag such as the Ascent as a backup to your experience and backcountry skills, and remember, it’s just one piece in a full avalanche terrain kit.