Püf – Ubak Mountain Safety
Seb Fish, February 2, 2012
During the Freeride Fair in Verbier, Switzerland on 16th of January, amongst lines of flashy new skis and snowboards, was a brand that is attempting to rewrite mountain safety.
Püf is the seven-year-old creation of Arieh Visocekas, a keen mountaineer who is aspiring to bring a new dimension of avalanche safety to skiing and snowboarding. Originally from Paris, Arieh settled in Chamonix to continue his father’s passion for extreme mountaineering. Unsatisfied with the equipment that was used to protect a rider in the event of an avalanche, Arieh sought the help of the local piste control, mountain guides, rescue teams, medical staff and the Gendarme to clarify a detailed list of requirements for survival in the event of an avalanche: Flotation; Air Supply; Head, neck and side impact protection; Quick extraction from the avalanche.
Of course regular airbags do (mostly) meet these performance requirements. Similar to many of the common airbag brands, such as ABS or Snowpulse, the inflated harness works as a flotation device to ensure that the rider stays above the snow during the fall. This means that the burial depth is minimised or eliminated, preventing asphyxiation and panic.
The inflated harness goes one step further to ensure breatheability for a buried rider. A nylon-based anti-snow net encases the rider’s head to create a substantially large air pocket. This is designed to prevent asphyxiation for a suitable length of time until extraction.
The immobilisation of the torso and neck when the harness is inflated serves to further protect the rider from debris and rocks, and acts as a neck brace to preserve the safety of the rider.
On extraction, the harness can be deflated easily and quickly so that the rider may be dug out and given the appropriate medical attention as quickly as possible. A built-in harness in the device allows for a helicopter extraction to be carried out effectively and swiftly.
The Püf harness can connect to any regular backpack via a mechanical locking system that is stitched to the top of the rider’s backpack. With this connected, as well as straps between the legs further cementing the harness in place, one can be sure that whatever the magnitude or speed of the avalanche, this thing will not come off.
The 2011/2012 model is the 6th edition of this harness and comes in three sizes: 1.5kg, 2.5kg and 3.2kg. Inflation time has been clocked at only 5 seconds, and although it is not stocked in retail stores (yet!), the proposed cost of this harness is €499, a reasonable price for survival. Replacement gas cartridges are priced at €15-20, considerably cheaper than current airbag alternatives.
Currently the Piste Control in the resorts of Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens use this product and so far the feedback has been very positive. Keep your eyes peeled in your local ski store throughout the coming seasons for this revolutionary and innovative product.
Post Update 2018: Arieh Visocekas continues to work in product design for avalanche gear, now working with Avagear.