Eventually, they picked up on the first signal and began digging furiously. They found Rudolph face down. Stifter performed CPR for about 30 minutes to no avail. Another group worked on digging out Brenan and Jack.
Professional skier Elyse Saugstad told NBC's "Today Show" she's convinced the air bag she deployed immediately — which she carried in a backpack and deployed with a lever by her chest — saved her life.
"It's lifting you kind of up above the avalanche," Saugstad said Monday. "It's not like you're taking an inner tube ride down some snowy field. ... It feels like you're in a washing machine."
Only Saugstad had an air bag, Stifter said. Air bags range from about $600 to $1,000. They have been widely used in Europe with reports of high survival rates, but they have become popular in the U.S. only recently.
An avalanche beacon, shovel and probe are among the mandatory rescue items for those heading into the backcountry, but experts say it's best to avoid avalanches entirely.
"The truth is, if you have to use your beacon, it means you've made a big mistake," said Benj Wadsworth, executive director of the Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, a nonprofit that works with the center to promote avalanche education and safety. "The focus of avalanche education is to keep you out of avalanches in the first place."
Adds Moore: "There are all of these technological things that will help us, but they're not a talisman that you can wave at the snowpack. You can't wave your beacon or your air bag at the snowpack. It's not going to make you safe. It's going to help you when get in trouble. You take the stuff with you, but you don't rely on them to extend your risk."
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