Eeva Latosuo and Pascal Haegeli
Proceedings of the 2023 International Snow Science Workshop in Bend, Oregon
Publication year: 2023

Click here to download Eeva’s paper.


Avalanche airbags can increase survival in an avalanche by preventing a critical burial or decreasing burial depth. Research has evaluated the effectiveness of this safety device for mortality reduction and their impact on risk attitudes and behaviors, but information is sparse on quantifying airbag ownership among the winter backcountry recreationists. Our work provides an up-to-date perspective on the prevalence of airbag use and the characteristics of airbag users.

We are using information from the Euregio and Swiss avalanche forecast research panels that includes detailed questions on recreational and professional activities in avalanche terrain, personal motivations and backgrounds, and avalanche safety practices including the use of safety equipment. Sample is likely biased toward committed recreationists, also expected more engaged in avalanche safety practices.

Focusing on research panel members with complete signup information (n=6277), we find that approximately one in three backcountry recreationists own an airbag (36.9%, n=2317). This result asserts that avalanche airbags have become a common risk management tool, but not a safety standard among recreational backcountry users.

Our univariate analysis describes attributes to owning an airbag for the participants in our sample. Males own more airbags than females. Out-of-bounds skiers have higher proportion of airbags than participants in other activities, such as backcountry skiers or snowshoers. The committed recreationists who engage in the activities more than 11 days a winter own more airbags than people who participate in the activity less frequently. Similarly, the most aggressive skiers own more airbags than participants who prefer mellower terrain.