Snowboarding and wingsuit-flying are what Géraldine does for a living – she spends around 250 days in the mountains every year. She deals with the risks in a suitably professional manner too: Swiss-born Géraldine is known for her extremely meticulous planning, which often takes days or even weeks. She had always managed to assess the dangers correctly and minimise residual risk – until April 2014, when she was surprised by a large avalanche.
Verbier, April 2014. Perfect freeriding conditions were the exception during the last winter season, however in April 2014, things were looking pretty good in the resort of Verbier, in the Swiss canton of Valais. "It was a fantastic powder day, with blue skies and good conditions," recalls Géraldine. "It was a perfect day to shoot a film."
Géraldine has been living in the freeride mecca of Verbier for many years so she knows the terrain like the back of her hand. The 34-year old has already won the Xtreme Verbier event in the Freeride World Tour on three separate occasions. "We were filming close to the gondola and were aiming to shoot enough footage for the season," she recounts. She had already skied two lines on her local mountain that morning and the plan now was to make a third descent.
"As I stood at the top preparing for this run, I thought that the conditions were still good enough," says Géraldine. "That was an error. I hadn't realised that the snow cover had changed very suddenly due to a rise in temperature. It took quite a while to prepare for the run and around the middle of the slope, I noticed the difference." But by then it was already too late. As she came to the last steep section, directly in the sunshine, it happened: A wind slab broke away and the avalanche revealed its full might.
Initially, Géraldine thought that the wind slab was just a little slide – but that was not the case: "I was caught up in the middle of a large avalanche, it was impossible to get away. For the first time in 15 years as a professional, I activated my ABS avalanche airbag. I located the activation handle quickly and easily, and within seconds both airbags had filled with air. It was as if I had wings: my ABS TwinBag pulled me up and held me on the surface," explains the snowboarder. "I was carried along with the avalanche for another 300 meters or so, but my position was stable and I was no longer being swept down without control."
She had done many test activations in the past to practise the movement. "You do lots of test activations, but I had never believed that I would actually need to activate an airbag for real," she emphasises. When the avalanche came to a halt, she found herself outside the avalanche cone. Géraldine had a lot of snow in her mouth, but she was uninjured. She quickly freed herself from the masses of snow to make her way to safety as rapidly as possible.
The accident was a shocking experience which has left a lasting impression: "This experience confirmed to me once again that I must never go out without an airbag. These days, the backpacks are so light and comfortable that there really is no excuse not to carry one. In any case, I was very happy that I had my ABS backpack with me at that critical moment," says Géraldine. "However, this does not mean that I took a bigger risk."
The professional snowboarder, of course, considers careful observation of the conditions and painstaking preparation as the most important steps. "I try to behave as professionally as possible and concentrate fully on what I'm doing. Up in the mountains, the conditions are constantly changing, and these changes can happen very quickly – I know that, but this time I underestimated it."
ABS Peter Aschauer GmbH is a dynamically growing, owner-managed company with a commitment to avalanche safety inspired by a passion for winter sports. For 30 years, the ABS avalanche airbag has been the original "made in Germany" product, sold in 25 countries worldwide. Field-tested on hundreds of occasions, the ABS system works where it counts: in the avalanche. In the event of an avalanche, it can help to prevent burial and therefore significantly increase the chances of survival. ABS' success and market leadership are underpinned by innovation and stringent quality standards.