If you love to ski or snowboard off-piste then you should be aware of avalanche risk and have probably considered getting an airbag. I decided to take the plunge and in this review of Pieps JetForce Rider, I ask if this electric, air canister free option is the best avalanche airbag system?
Cards on the table here, fortunately I have never been caught in an avalanche, let alone in the last year while wearing the Jetforce. This means I have not tested the Pieps JetForce Rider in what it is made for – and hopefully I never will!
To test it, I wore it for around 25 days last season. Due to bad luck with snow, all but three days were spent cruising the piste or in avalanche safe off-piste and backcountry.
Seriously every trip was barren, no fresh stuff for two weeks before I arrived, and to rub salt – or perhaps I should say snow – into the wounds dumping down as I left. Fortunately, the bad luck ended on my last trip of the season, when half a meter of snow fell in Les Arcs at the end of March.
Of course we did not go looking for avalanches – quite the opposite. But the terrain and conditions meant there was at least a risk – even if we had done everything possible to minimise it.
During the rest of this review of Pieps JetForce Rider I tested it’s comfort, practical use in terms of what I can carry and the ease of deployment and repacking. Yes that is right I set it off quite a few times in order to test it – which was a lot of fun.
As an electric avalanche airbag without compressed air you can deploy it multiple times in any day. This makes getting used to it a lot easier and means it doesn’t cost over £50 each time you deploy – one reason the Jetforce may be the best avalanche airbag system.
Before I get into this Review of Pieps JetForce Rider I feel a little safety announcement is in order. Heading off-piste and backcountry is dangerous. It should only be done with a guide, or by those who know what they are doing and have the appropriate gear – transceiver, probe and shovel at least.
Having an avalanche airbag is a last line of defence. The most important thing is to reduce risk by not skiing or snowboarding in places where an avalanche is likely. This requires knowledge, experience, plus an understanding of the local conditions and snowpack history.
An airbag increases your chance of survival by giving you a larger volume to weight ratio making you less likely to be buried. Burial rate is 20% with a airbag compared to 47% without one.
Of course an avalanche airbag only works if you deploy it. Statistics show that in 20% of the avalanche deaths the airbag was not deployed. It is thought this is due to lack of practice and not setting it off soon enough.
Pieps have created a very different airbag, that for a variety of reasons is a huge improvement on the traditional design. But is it the best avalanche airbag system?
The Pieps JetForce is an electronic avalanche airbag that does not use compressed air – the first of it’s kind. Instead it uses a jet fan that revolves at 60,000 rpm powered by a LI-ION battery. This inflates the 200 litre airbag in just 3 seconds.
For 3 minutes it periodically re-inflates to ensure maximum volume. This counteracts any air loss through small tears or leaks and gives the maximum chance you’ll not be buried.
After 3 minutes the Jetforce airbag automatically deflates. If buried this helps to create space and can leave an air-pocket which increases survival chances.
Without an air-pocket survival time is 14 to 35 minutes, whilst with an air pocket you have 1.5 to 2 hours. This added time could save your life, and is a great reason the Jetforce could be the best avalanche airbag system.
The Pieps Jetforce LI-ION battery holds enough charge for at least four deployments in one day. Although personally, after the third avalanche I’d probably call it a day….
However, this gives you the option of practicing with the Pieps Jetforce without incurring associated costs of a canister refill. With non-deployed airbags accounting for 20% of avalanche fatalities (among airbag wearers), to practice with an avalanche airbag should reduce that number.
Furthermore, as there is no cost associated with deployment skiers and snowboarders are more likely to deploy at the first sign of danger. As opposed to hesitating for a moment to be sure you are in an avalanche, and then being swept away and unable to deploy.
At the end of the day the best avalanche airbag system is the one that gives you the highest chance of survival. So the Pieps Jetforce has clear advantages over other options.
The airbag itself is made from 315d Cordura® airbag-fiber technology. This offers exceptional strength at very low weight. It is also easy to pack requiring no special folding – just stuff and go.
The LI-ON battery has been tested to work at minus 30 degrees and shown to last at least 500 charging cycles. To protect the battery there is an advanced system that optimises the charge. There is also a storage mode to maximise battery life.
Every time the Pieps JetForce is armed it runs a self diagnostic and will beep to let you know if something is wrong. The self-diagnostic continues whilst it is live and ready to use, so you will know instantly if anything is not working – another reason this is probably the best avalanche airbag system.
The rider is the smallest in the JetForce family weighing in at a fairly hefty 3.3kg. But considering this includes the battery, fan and airbag it is comparable to most of the small avalanche packs that tend to weigh in at around 3kg.
There is space in the pack for shovel and probe plus you can easily fit a litre of water, snacks and lunch. There is a top pocket that is ideal for smaller items.
Although you could fit an extra layer in the Pieps Jetforce backpack probably not if you pack lunch. However, there is an extendible webbing to hold a helmet, skis or snowboard that could also be used to strap an extra layer in place.
The shoulder straps of the pack are reinforced with wire to ensure the Pieps jetforce backpack does not get ripped from your back during an avalanche. Also the waist buckle is metal for improved strength.
In order to answer ‘Is this the best avalanche airbag system?’ I wore the Jetforce every day on the slopes in the 16/17 season. Regardless of conditions, whether I was heading off-piste of sticking to the groomers, I carried it around.
Due to the aforementioned lack of powder, in most resorts I visited this meant carrying the pack for no reason while I rode the piste.,,,
As the Pieps Jetforce Rider is electric it is slightly different to arm than traditional avalanche airbags. Similar to others, the deployment handle is secured when not in use, in this case using a little zipped pocket.
Once the handle is out there is a big button on the end that you press to switch it on, or hold down to arm the pack. When you switch it on it beeps to say it is ready, and when you arm it the fan runs for a second or two to test everything is working.
There are lights on the handle that indicate how much power is left and whether it is armed. In the case of a problem the lights also indicate what the issue is. I never had any problems with it and found it is easy and intuitive to use.
Getting used to snowboarding with it and testing it’s comfort, practical use and durability were an important part of this review of Pieps JetForce Rider. At first it felt heavy and bulky but I soon got used to it.
Overall I found it very comfortable, the straps are good, the back padding excellent and it is streamlined to my back. Although It was a bit of a pain compared to no backpack it was nice to have stuff that was normally in my pockets on my back instead.
The Jetforce Rider did not affect my snowboarding any more than riding with an ordinary backpack with avalanche gear in it. As with any backpack your movement feels slightly restricted and weight distribution is marginally different but you quickly get used to it.
Ultimately, I hardly noticed it was there except when getting on and off lifts. Even when it is fully packed with shovel, probe, water, snacks, and various bits and pieces its around 5kg. I would imagine if you were skiing or snowboarding with 15kg you’d notice it more.
I had a couple of big crashes while wearing the pack which had interesting consequences. The first time I caught my back edge at high speed – my first edge catch (when not getting a trick wrong) in years.
Travelling at about 50 kph I landed on my back and my head whipped back. The pack saved me from taking big head hit on the icy piste. Unfortunately, I got slight whiplash which affected my riding for the next few days.
The Pieps Jetforce Rider also protected me from full impact on my back, which I imagine would have been brutal on the bullet hard piste. However, the padding was not quite sufficient to protect me from the battery and fan and I ended up with a sore lower back.
Overall I am not sure if injuries would have been better or worse without the pack – worst case I may have got a head injury, but my lid should have protected me. But this was a very rare edge catch, I honestly can’t remember the last time I had as bad as fall on the piste.
During this review of Pieps JetForce Rider my second crash was off-piste traversing steep terrain in deep snow. I clipped a rock and the board jumped out from under me, causing me to land on the left side of my back on the rock.
In this instance the Jetforce pack certainly protected me, without it the jagged rock could have caused serious injury. As it was I got away with a winding and a slight tear on one of the straps of the backpack.
Apart from the snowboarding, deployment was the fun part of this review of Pieps JetForce Rider. I set it off 4 or 5 times.
The first couple of times at home just to see how it worked – I can confirm it scared the cat. But I also set it off on the mountain a couple of times to see how easy it is to do.
It is set off by sharply pulling on the deployment handle. The handle is fairly big making it easy to grip. It’s located on the shoulder strap at around chest level, which means it is easy to find without looking.
Deploying is easy, if anything after using it a couple of times I was more worried about accidentally setting it off than not being able to pull hard enough. But the movement to pull the handle is not the kind of thing you do when skiing or snowboarding, so it would be pretty rare to accidentally set it off.
Re-packing the airbag is very easy, particularly if you wait the three minutes for it to deflate. However, you can cancel the three minute cycle if you wish and manually deflate it using a sliding valve. This is slightly fiddly the first time you do it but soon becomes easy.
I expected getting the airbag back into the pack to be like packing a tent away – difficult if you don’t do it right. But it was very simple, quick and easy to stuff it back into the pack and reset the zips. Overall it only takes a couple of minutes once you know what you are doing.
Getting to and from the mountains on press trips each year involves a fair amount of flying. As the Jetforce is an electric avalanche airbag without compressed air it is perfectly fine to take on a plane. In fact in 10 fights no-one even asked about it.
I did find its size is slightly inconvenient to use as hand luggage. There is not enough space to hold everything I like to have with me, but it’s still too bulky to fit under the seat in front during a flight. I prefer to put it inside my snowboard bag to be checked in, but often you don’t have the room or weight allowance.
Previously I only snowboarded with a backpack when heading into the backcountry. But I found I really enjoyed having my stuff in a rucksack rather than in my pockets. I ended up taking more gear with me on the slopes meaning I was more prepared.
I also really liked having a backpack to help me transport my gear from the accommodation to the slopes. Last season I had quite a few long walks to and from the piste in very warm conditions. So I could put my gloves in the pack, strap my lid to the back and be more comfortable hiking across town.
Great gear is often something completely new – like the first avalanche airbag packs – or something that dramatically improves on an existing winning formula. In my opinion the Pieps Jetforce Rider falls squarely in this second category.
Being rechargable it is more convenient and cheaper than having to replace the compressed air canister. You can also use it multiple times in one day, meaning you can practice using it so if the worst does happen you are more prepared to set it off.
With it’s three minutes of repeated reinflation it reduces the risk of deflation whilst still in the avalanche. Furthermore, by deflating after three minutes the Jetforce can leave an air pocket which dramatically improves the chances of survival when buried.
The Jetforce is more convenient, cheaper to run, easier to practice with and with has added safety features that could save your life. So to conclude this review of Pieps JetForce Rider I’d say it’s the best avalanche airbag system available.
We hope you found this review of Pieps JetForce Rider useful, the RRP of the 10L rider is £699 the 24L Tour Rider is £784 and the 35L Tour Pro £834. If you’d like to get your hands on the best avalanche airbag system head to www.pieps.com/jetforce