As we noted in this year's Winter Buyer's Guide, inflatable airbag-equipped avalanche backpacks are becoming much more mainstream. When deployed, usually by a trigger mechanism in the shoulder strap, the air bags increase buoyancy, making it more likely that a skier will remain at the surface of a slide. (Inflated, they also help protect the wearer’s head, neck, and back from collisions with trees and rocks.) At this year's OR Winter Market, several companies are debuting new packs, including Dakine's Altitude ABS 40L Pack, Backcountry's Float 32 Avalanche Airbag, and a new model from Mammut. But the most interesting new airbag product isn't a pack at all: it's a vest.
The North Face's Powder Guide ABS Vest is being touted as the first avalanche airbag apparel. To create the vest, the North Face partnered with Germany's ABS GmbH, which has been making avalanche safety gear since the 1980s and whose athlete roster includes big-mountain skier Lynsey Dyer and big-mountain snowboarder Xavier De Le Rue. The mechanics are the same as in a backpack: compressed nitrogen inflates two high-volume, brightly-colored airbags in the sides of the back of the vest. It's cut big enough to wear over a normal ski jacket, and there are just enough pockets to stash the rest of your avalanche safety gear (shovel and probe) and a snack, making it ideal for short sidecountry missions. (The North Face is also offering the same airbag system in a more traditional pack, the Patrol 24 ABS, for $999). Available Fall 2012.