The wrong way of marketing backcountry skiing

The wrong way of marketing backcountry skiing

ABS launched their winter campaign and the short movie below of 24-year old Aymar Navarro ‘surviving an avalanche thanks to his ABS backpack’ was going viral on social media. When you look at the size of the avalanche it’s most likely that he can really thank his backpack for the fact that he’s still alive. But we’ll never know that for sure.

Before you start reading this blog, let’s make some points extremely clear. I think an avalanche airbag is a great product and I truly believe that it can help saving my ass in case I’m in a slide. I’m riding with an avalanche airbag for years now, the last two years with ABS. After following multiple avalanche courses and knowing how to use (and practicing over and over again) my beacon, probe and shovel, I thought an avalanche airbag is great extension of my ‘safety quiver’. But….I really don’t like the campaign that ABS is running at the moment. To add some power to my words: it stinks. And the short movie above is one example.


Around 100-110 people in the Alps die because of avalanches. And whereas most people think that an avalanche just ‘occurs’, quite the opposite is true. An avalanche doesn’t just ‘occur’. 90% of the victims triggered their deadly avalanche themselves. And as you can see, that’s exactly the case with Alvaro. He triggered his own avalanche. Pretty bad news for him. On the other hand, if we trigger our own avalanches we can influence the risk by avoiding those dangerous slopes and choose to ride ones where the risk is significantly lower. How do you do that? Knowledge and experience.


Unfortunately, a lot of people still believe that it’s ‘bad luck’ that their caught by an avalanche. And let’s face it: ABS doesn’t really make you aware of the fact that 90% of the deadly avalanches are triggered by the riders themselves or others in their group. Ok, they have a small passage on their website, but that isn’t what the public is going to read. They think that they have to protect themselves for something unpredictable and spontaneous such as an avalanche. The answer? An avalanche airbag. This way of thinking is used by ABS in their campaign. Check out the video of Aymar once again. This is the mention by ABS:

The 24-year old survived the accident thanks to his avalanche airbag unscathed except for a few scratches.

When you take a look at the YouTube page of ABS you’ll find more ‘I survived with ABS’ movies. It’s great that all of these riders survived and it makes everyone more aware of the risks, but prevention is better than the cure. The tone of voice is even more defined on the Facebook page of ABS ‘If you think you don’t need to care about avalanche safety you better watch this video.’ It’s a good thing that they tell you that you have to care about avalanche safety. But the message in the campaign is clear: buy an airbag and you’ll survive an avalanche. I survived with ABS. I pretty much can not conclude anything else. But again, in my honest opinion, that’s not the way how ‘safer’ skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry should be marketed.

Prevention is better than the cure

is one of the skiers in the ABS campaign. She was lucky to survive the massive slide near Stevens Pass, that was documented and reconstructed in a brilliant way by the New York Times. This case shows that a series of mistakes lead to this fatal avalanche. Fortunately, Elyse lives to tell the story. ABS claims a survival rate of 97%, but if you dig into the numbers, it’s getting interesting.


Around 100-110 people in the Alps die because of avalanches. At least 90% of the victims triggered their deadly avalanche themselves. Research done by the ICAR tells us that 50% of all the people completely buried by an avalanche survive. The people who lose their life in an avalanche die due to suffocation or trauma (such as impact on a rock or tree). But how many people are caught by an avalanche every year? How many of them are completely buried? Even though there is more data available than ever before, we still don’t know much. There aren’t that many researchers. Not all avalanches are reported. Point is: can we extrapolate the research done by the SLF for ABS with a 97% survival rate as an outcome ?

What we do know

We know that your chances of getting caught by an avalanche is significantly lower with the right knowledge. By using Werner Munters 3x3 reduction method or using Martin Englers SnowCard you’ll know which slopes to avoid. Backcountry skiing and snowboarding starts with the right knowledge. Not with an airbag. Let’s return to the video of Aymar one more time. The video below is the one they shot BEFORE he was caught by the huge slide in the first movie.

Do you see the slide going down and Aymar escaping it? The second run (the ABS commercial) looks even steeper. So…what did they expect? A stable snowpack? Why were they riding that face one more time? The response of Aymar on the Facebook post of the Freeride World Tour is even more confusing:

Hi guys, my name is Aymar Navarro and i’m the rider of the avalanche footage! I can assure you that all the images are real! With this things you don’t play…I was really lucky that day and for sure the ABS also helped for nothing worse to happen!! In this sport there are some risks that we never want them to happen, but sometimes even if we try to minimize the risk as much as possible, they do!! The risk exists as well as the accidents!! We must be cautious in the mountain, at the end she has the last word.

Read this sentence again:

In this sport there are some risks that we never want them to happen, but sometimes even if we try to minimize the risk as much as possible, they do!!

The ethical way

The video was shot for a Ford commercial. But still, ABS made a campaign out of it. In my opinion, they’re sending out the wrong message. Avalanche awareness starts with knowledge. I will still carry my ABS pack this winter, because I still think it’s a great product. But I’m not carrying it because I’m some kind of stuntman. And to Aymar: glad you made it and hopefully without any serious injuries.



niconavez15 October 2013 · 10:45

Hello Morris,
I think you mix different points in your post and it misrepresents your message. I’ll try to answer you shortly. If you want to debate more in details, I’m totally open to discuss with you.

There are 3 diffeents aspects : the ABS campaign, the efficiciency statistics, and the avalanche risk management.

First of all, regarding the ABS campaign. I have to say that I don’t feel very comfortable with the way the message is given. I would have preferred somehting more educational, explaining the course of the day, the potential risk, the analysis before the run, etc. But anyway, we don’t controll the brand marketing.
On the other hand, I’ve been ABS distributor for 7 years. We sell very technical security gears, whose we think they are technologically better than others (personal piont of view). But trough my 7 years of intensive field experience, demonstration, etc, I can tell that when you speak about the technical qualities of your products, the people don’t listen to you. Most people are only interested in simple marketing arguments. I deplore it because I love technics and I love speaking about that but that’s the reality. So how do you communicate about your product qualities ? With arguments nobody listens or with real field efficiency ? I’m open to any suggestion. I think you like the meteorology, then I could make an analogy. If someones asks you what will the weather tomorrow and you starts speaking about the high pressure, depression, barometric swamp, hygrometry, subsidence inversion, etc what will happen ? They just want you to say if it will be sunny or rainy !
And now we are not alone on the market anymore. Other brands have different technlogies. If we want to show why our technology is better, there is no thousands of solution, since the technical qualities don’t interest people. We are the only brand who can show global statistics and real exhaustive field efficiency. So we have to speak about that. Actually it’s easier for a ski brand to advertise, just show nice images and it works. But for all security brands, it’s really tricky. If you don’t speak about efficiency you don’t sell. And once again, the way of communicate is important too, I don’t like the tone used in the last campaign. I would have used anoter message, but I don’t controll that aspect.

Secondly regarding statistics. I would recommand you to gather more input before accusing of manipulating information. Actually 97% is lower than the real number. Why can I say that ?
Avalanche cases with heavily injured or dead people are reported by the National Recue Teams, so they ARE in the statistics. But on the other hands, they are a large number of successfull cases which are NOT in the statitics, because people don’t report it.
But we don’t need it. I would even prefer 95% than higher, it’s far enough to know the product is efficient, but the reality is here.
It’s true that there are people surviving avalanches without airbag but it’s also demonstrated now that airbag backpacks significantly increase your chance of survival. Since ski patrollers in France have been equipped with ABS (it started in 2000), we haven’t known any fatal accident, where as there were 29 deads between 1971 and 2006 without airbags.

Finally regarding avalanche risk management. I totally agree that brains must prevail against security equipment. Snow analysis, knowledge and experience are far more important. The aim is not to be taken. But there is theory and practice. Avalanche forecasting is not a science. There is a manageable risk and an unpredictable risk.
If you think the contrary, I would recommand you to say that in front of all the experienced mountain professionals (mountain guide, ski instuctors, ski patrollers, etc) who were taken in avalanche with ABS. I’m sure they will be happy to know from you they can’t read the snowpack and they don’t know the field where they have been sking for 10-20 years.

Once again, totally open to debate about this subjects with you.


Anonymous15 October 2013 · 14:41

Hi agree with both, all concepts are ok.
I don’t want to blame one brand instead an other and for that i will call ABP (Avalanche BackPack)
But the message that comes from campaign like this is that “Wear an ABP and you will be Superman”.
I don’t want that ABS will mean Anti Brain System.
All ABP Companies, Mountain Guide, Mountain/Ski/Snowboard Club must involve people into the safety from the ground zero, not saying buy an Avalanche Backpack and you will survive. NO. The message is this from campaigns, all !!
More impressive was first video of ABS when Xavier de la Rue was caught in a huge avalanche here in the Alps

They show where it is, all the destruction that an avalanche can create and also the face of Xavier when was extracted from the white.
This video, at least to me, told me that yes Xavier could have exagerated a bit (but everyone knows Xavier and his Snowboard’s way but expecially knows him as an expert in the Mountains) but told me also that he wasn’t Lucky but Super Lucky to be alive after that. And that ABS was an extreme system to try to help me to survive, not a system that in every condition help me.
Here someone regrets the avalanche backpack because they say that using them means to go more extreme, also if brain say “please don’t go”.
I use it since 4 years now, i use it also on slopes or really easy terrain, making people amusing about me, but seen that i know me very well, for sure before the end of the day i will go in Freeride or AT somewhere.
The Main teaching must come from the beginning, from ski teacher, where at least here none use ABP system and when you speak with them about ABP … they say that here doesn’t need, needs only in Alaska.

i Agree % with Morris about 0 interest by customers about the listening about the tech features. Personally i prefere another brand system but i don’t regret other systems. I show both systems, i explain for an half an hour the qualities, i make customers wears both bags to feel on the shoulders and at the end you will sell the one from the brand plus cool because has Rider X instead rider Y or the bag has a small extra feature.
They don’t think about their life, they think that if they don’t have for the incoming season an ABP … they will not be cool and doesn’t transmit to folks “Hey, i’ve the ABP, so i’m a Freerider”. We have to exit from it, for the future of our sport.

P.S. not everyone that has ABP is a folk … but the newcomers probably buy an ABP instead APS ;)

meteomorris4 November 2013 · 12:02

@@niconavez @@Gianvi, thanks for your feedback and responses.

Just like Gianvi I’m wearing and ABS (or ABP) for 5 years now. I’m glad to hear @@niconavez that you don’t like the tone in the new campaign. The “Wear an ABP and you will be Superman” message might be confusing for the youngsters and mass audience.

Regarding risk management. I’m totally aware of the fact that avalanche forecasting is still a challenge for the scientists. I’ve been teaching snow safety for years and I know that we still can’t manage the danger with science. That’s why there are risk management methods like the one developed by for example Munter and Engler. These are not bases on snow science but based on risk management learned by practice.

What I do know, and I think that every expert will agree on this, is that the line(s) that Aymar chose that day was/were (to)riskfull. I don’t want to blame him for this. In the mountains every one should make their own choises and calculate the risks they are willing to take.

It’s hard to judge from the outside. But in your words, it looks like Aymar was with this line already beyond manageable risks and was taking unpredictable risks. Keep in mind that the audience you are aiming at are not only the mountain professionals (mountain guide, ski instuctors, ski patrollers, etc) you are talking about.

@@niconavez What do you think?
jrocklage21 September 2023 · 17:17

I think the slogan should have read:
when you fuck up , we still got your ass!

Karlis10 October 2023 · 14:01

Let’s remember the times when only expert level skiers went off piste because it requires a great experience, skills and physical strength. Nowadays the marketing is actually encouraging people to go off piste even though most are beginner skiers at best - there are so many “daddies” who want to rediscover the youth (i remember when snowboarding was getting cool and people over 40 dyed hair and wanted to be cool again).

Sending it :)
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