British Columbia

Whistler snowboarder survives avalanche thanks to inflatable backpack

A snowboarder near Whistler, B.C., can thank his inflatable avalanche backpack for saving his life.

Warning: Video contains language that may offend some readers

Tom Oye captured the entire avalanche on his helmet cam. (Tom Oye)

A snowboarder can thank his inflatable backpack for saving him during an avalanche near Whistler, B.C. on Wednesday.

Tom Oye posted helmet-cam video of the terrifying incident in the Brandywine area on Facebook, where it has been viewed millions of times. 

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According to an earlier post, Oye — who is originally from Australia but now lives in Whistler — received the airbag backpack as a birthday gift last month. 

David Cote, a local snowmobile guide, was just around the corner from the avalanche and witnessed the tail end of the slide around 10 a.m. PT.

"You could just see him sort of on the surface," he said. "It's hard to say exactly if he would've been buried without it, but I think he's quite lucky that he had the avalanche airbag on."

David Cote witnessed the avalanche that swept up an Australian snowboarder (pictured) on Wednesday. (David Cote)

Cote, who has over a decade of experience on the mountain, was testing the area for avalanche risk about 10 minutes before the slide. 

The guide said it was a risky day to be in the backcountry.

"Some of the results we were seeing from our tests were quite scary ... it was very reactive," he said. 

The device that helped save Oye appears to be a Black Diamond JetForce avalanche airbag, which retails for around $1,200 Cdn.

This type of avalanche airbag backpack uses a jet-fan to inflate in three seconds. (Black Diamond/JetForce)

It inflates when a trigger on the front shoulder strap is pulled. A rechargeable lithium battery powers a jet fan to pump in 200 litres of air in three seconds.

The airbag helps someone caught in an avalanche remain near the surface of the slide. It also offers some protection from being hit by debris, especially around the head. In the event a person is buried, the airbag helps create an air pocket for breathing.

With files from Rhianna Schmunk

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