A 2014 study published in The Avalanche Review shows that one in eight people wearing an avalanche airbag pack will fail to deploy it when caught in a slide. That’s a sobering truth for winter warriors: No matter how expensive your gear, it can’t help your chances in an emergency if you don’t use it correctly. ORTOVOX seeks to eliminate that problem with its new line of AVABAG packs, which lets users disconnect the cartridge to practice as much as they need to get the drill down pat. With the same pressure and release, the cartridge-free pull feels just like the real thing. In practice scenarios in the Monarch Mountain sidecountry, we found the oversized grip was easy to locate and pull, even when we were skiing fast. Nice touch: The trigger’s rounded grip makes it grabbable from any angle. It also has two length positions.
The airbag unit itself is a scant 1.5 pounds, thanks to a first-of-its-kind seamless construction. The whole unit fits into a sleeping pad-size compartment at the top of the packbag, and is removable so you can use the pack without the airbag. Organization is decent: A wraparound zipper flays the pack open like a book so you can stuff gear beneath the airbag, while a separate compartment fits avy tools. The Ascent has a helmet carry, a key holder, and all the standard features of a mountaineering pack, which, when combined with the foam backpanel and wide shoulder straps, make it a go-to choice for day missions, with or without the airbag.