From the safety of the ridge, a half-dozen skiers watched with satisfaction. All was well on that stormy day in 2012, the avalanche intentionally triggered by the Snow Basin Ski Patrol. The airbag that had risen from the debris had been strapped to a dummy, not a real person. The slide was a test. And until that moment, Black Diamond JetForce Technology had been just simulations, theories and assumptions. This slide was the first real-world proof of concept for the system—it was a revolutionary avalanche safety tool, and it worked.
Avalanche airbag systems have been used and proven in the field for more than 20 years. But Black Diamond’s goal in creating JetForce Technology was not to add another compressed air canister system to the market, but to come up with a design that answered the numerous limitations of this existing paradigm. The current packs weren’t allowed on airplanes, they needed to be reloaded between each deployment and there was no way to test or practice with them before a real accident occurs. So Black Diamond’s product team, led by design engineer Pete Gompert, decided to start from scratch. And in this case, starting from scratch meant begging an old computer fan from the company’s IT department and pairing it with a plastic bag.
Gompert had been toying with concepts that could possibly reinvent the current system—chemical reactions, mechanical springs—but nothing stuck. Then, on a whim, he placed a plastic garbage bag over the small exhaust fan on a computer. Much to his surprise, the bag filled with air in only 10 or 15 seconds. So the team stepped up their game, ordering some high-powered, duct fans and a high-tensile airbag. The inflation time quickly shrank to just a few seconds.
Inflation and Deflation
When deployed, JetForce’s battery-powered fan inflates a 200-liter airbag. The bag fully inflates in 3.5 seconds.
A puncture recovery cycle follows inflation, helping to maintain the bag in the event of a tear. At one minute and 30 seconds, a volume maintenance cycle begins.
After three minutes of inflation, the jet fan reverses and the airbag deflates, aiding in extraction, creating an air pocket and facilitaing repacking.
Rechargeable Electronic System
Powering JetForce Technology is a rechargeable, travel-friendly lithium-ion battery. An external port makes recharging as easy as plugging in a cell phone.
JetForce can redeploy multiple times on a single charge, costing nothing—in time or money—to practice as often as needed.
Automatic System Self-Diagnostic
Electronics perform a "good-to-go" system check on every start-up, and LED lighting in the handle indicates system status.
All JetForce Packs feature a dedicated avy-tool pocket, a HiLo helmet holder and internal accessory pocket.
In addition, all JetForce Packs feature tuck-away diagonal ski carry that allows the airbag to deploy, even while skis are attached. The Saga 40 also accommodates for snowboard carry.
The Halo 28 Pack features a single ice-axe attachment, while the Saga 40 features ice-tool PickPockets™.
“The standard tests only goes so far,” Jon Coppi, the lead QA engineer on the JetForce project says. “These extra tests may not be necessary to achieve certification by the standard, but for a customer using it over the lifetime of the product, we think it’s incredibly necessary.”
Outside of the in-house lab, a wide-ranging and dedicated team of field testers put JetForce through more than two full winter seasons and thousands of user days of real-world testing around the globe.
And Coppi was one of them. A dedicated backcountry skier, he was voluntarily buried in a control chamber under several meters of snow to ensure the system could pull air from compressed avalanche debris. He passed on the chance to ride JetForce Technology through a real avalanche, however, bestowing that honor instead on the department’s test dummy, watching from the ridge instead as JetForce underwent its first real-world test.
"That day was the beginning of the culmination of a lot of hard work," Gompert says. "To see JetForce emerge as a truly new technology in the snow safety space and to know that it has the potential to save lives makes it all worth it."
Words: Andy Anderson
Photography: Scott Markewitz & Adam Clark
Videographer: Hennie Van Jaarsveld
Production: Advent Integrated