The avalanche survival system to add 90 minutes to rescues

The SBX-integrated backcountry vest is in development to supply air to avalanche victims buried under the snow

safeback Db backcountry vest avalanche

Safeback SBX, winner of the ISPO Award in 2022, claims to supply air to snow burial victims, extending the survival window by 90 minutes.

More than 75% of avalanche burial fatalities are down to asphyxiation; the longer you are buried, the more likely you will die. The American Avalanche Association (AAA) reports that the chances of survival are 92% if you are extricated within 15 minutes. By 35 minutes, your chances are down to 37%.

ABS avalanche airbags have been around for a while, designed to aid floatation in a snow slide and prevent complete burial in an avalanche. But if you are buried by snow, these packs do little to help. There have been attempts at systems to help victims breathe if buried, by way of a tube that deposits CO2 away from the mouth and nose, increasing oxygen, to extend the window for rescue. But this means successfully handling a breathing tube once buried.

Norwegian company Safeback, alongside luggage brand Db, steps in to design the world’s first backcountry vest with the SBX avalanche survival system (- get to know the SBX system here.)

On the Safeback website it states:

When we first looked at the current avalanche safety market, it was clear that most of the investment and innovation was focused on improving the search and recovery tools in order to maximise the ability and opportunity to find your buried partner in under 15 minutes.

The solution:

Instead of looking for how we could contribute to trimming the next few seconds off of the recovery process, we began thinking about how we could help the person under the snow.

After many field interviews, extensive market research, and conceptual prototypes, we came up with the idea which has developed into the current Safeback SBX solution: If the O2-depleted and CO2-saturated air immediately around your nose and mouth is what becomes most dangerous to you under the snow, then actively replacing it with clean air could extend the window for survival.

The Safeback battery-powered system is activated by pulling a handle to pump air from the snowpack as the victims fresh air supply. This air diffuses through the porous crystal structure of snow, delivering fresh oxygen to breathe in, and pushing away the CO2 that has been exhaled.

If successful, it could extend the survival time of a buried individual up to 90 minutes: a potential game changer for rescuers searching for avalanche victims. This year it won an innovation award at ISPO for the most outstanding products and services in sports. It’s certainly one to watch.

Hunter Nordhauser, Senior Designer at Db:

“We were iterating on a powder vest to encourage skiers and snowboarders to always consider carrying avalanche gear, no matter how deep the days. When Safeback came to us, integrating the SBX unit into our Backcountry Vest gave Db more justification to create a lightweight avalanche safety solution, while providing complete freedom of movement for the rider.”

The backcountry vest is designed for skiers and snowboarders, from resort riders looking for an added layer of protection against tree wells on the deepest days, to backcountry riders taking day trips in avalanche terrain.

It will be available in markets worldwide for winter 2023/24.