Introduction: Emergency Avalanche Beacon

About: Failure is not the opposite of success, it's part of success.

When we talk about survival we often think about geeky objects, cool designs, making-fire-the-old-way and who to eat first when that plane's going down.

I'm not an exception - toys 'n boys, you know. I had a lot of fun designing tools & pooping on steep slopes, but despite the overall satisfaction of these projects I know, for sure, that these creations & reflections won't really save lives.

They'll offer some comfort - especially on steep slopes - or some crafty entertainment at the end of the day.

But saving lives? I'd like to say 'of course', but untill now no-one sent me a 'thanx-for-saving-my-life'-card.

Except one: my ex-wife. Just after the divorce. Ha!

'Survival' has become a term on itself. 'Something we do in the weekend.'

Or in the week, also, when being married to the wrong person. Haha!

Often we like to forget the real meaning of it. We skip that 'survival' is about 'staying alive'.

About fighting for that life.

About being freakin' scared to die.

There's nothing cool about it.

If there's one I'ble of me that can save your life, it'll be this one.

Step 1: Avalanche!

Touched by another heavy avalanche accident - 6 casualties at once - in the French Alps a few days ago I started thinking.

Many years ago, it could have been me. During a snowshoe trek we went totally off cape in a storm. Complete whiteout. Because we knew that part of the mountain was bad business to get stuck, we tried to move on the best we could and then, somewhere, all of a sudden, the whole earth started moving. The crispy snow crumbled in a million pieces under our shoes and I felt washed away before I could realize what was happening. Impossible to define up and down. Bodies kept by gravity.


'This is it.' My only thought of that moment.

We were on the wrong place at the wrong moment. Call it like that.

We all make mistakes, but at high altitude you pay them cash. Always.

We made it that day, alive. My buddy broke his arm & I broke a few ribs. The loss of half of our gear was the smallest of our problems. It took us 39 hours to reach safety, suffering in cold & pain but surfing on emotions & endorfines. We made it. Alive! Survival-mode, you know.

I'll never forget those moments. Never. The surprise, the panic, the fear, the pain.

And the relief, the overwhelming happiness I felt when I smashed into those trees who dispersed the avalanche - and crushed my chest as their way to make me pay for their service.

When years passed by, I started thinking what could have saved our lives that day, if we would just have been a few meters further.

It wasn't that crazy knife. It wasn't that cool fire starter. It wasn't that high-tech survival kit.

What, if we didn't meet that bunch of trees?

Image credits: pixabay - public domain

Step 2: Fact Check

In the French Alps only, 45 people died in avalanche accidents in the season 2014-2015.

In the same season, 11 people died in avalanches in the US.

In 20 years (1995-2015), hundreds of people died in avalanches in Switzerland (map above).

Just a few numbers. This list can fill the whole page.

Did you know that in the first 10 minutes after an avalanche, 90% of the victims are saved?

And that after one hour, the survival rate is less than 40%?

Being found on time. That's what it's all about.

This instructable is not, in the first place, about you how-to-survive that avalanche.

It's about you, being washed away.

It's about you, trapped inside.

It's about you, hoping that someone will get you out of there.

I know, the best way to survive an avalanche is to avoid the avalanche.

I know, you need knowledge about ice & snow conditions, knowledge about the weather, knowledge about trails & slopes. Common sense.

Despite all this knowledge, every year people die.

Every year lives are lost because help just didn't arrive on time.

Think twice, in those snowy mountains. And then once more.

Step 3: Commercial Designs

The past few years a lot of devices have been thrown on the market to increase your chances when gravity is tearing you down.

The avalanche airbag is such a thing.

This device, incorporated in a backpack, helps you to stay above the raging snow. They're two designs, grosso modo: those who block your neck like a life jacket and those who give you 'wings'.

These devices are great. But these devices are expensive and not that compact. They're readymade incorporated in a backpack and thus perfect for daylight-gliders like skiers & snowboarders.

The avalanche balloon is such a thing, also.

This device explodes like previous devices but instead of harnessed to your body it's floating with a rope behind or above you.

I like this device. More than the airbag, it will act as a beacon, guiding rescuers to your location.

I like that idea. A lot. It's compact, not that expensive and so within reach of the moderate mountaineer.

Also in water sports these devices are becoming familiar. Same idea: in case of accident, inflate the balloon and use it as a beacon or a floating aid.

Image credits: pixabay - public domain

Step 4: Me Thinking

The more a device is cheap, the more people will get it.

What I wanted, was a piece of equipment everyone would stick to his survival kit. Not one, but more of them depending the destination.

Knife, fire-starter, water purifying tablets, and That Device.

You're going to cross a risky zone? Fix it to your belt, waist, backpack, wherever it's easy to reach with your hand and the best of luck!

Aim was to make a device that everyone could make at minimum cost. Compact, easy to carry, no nonsense.

When the slope moves, push a button and give yourself a joker to make it alive. Something like that.

I copied the avalanche balloon, in some way.

My version is a lot more basic, but it's so simple that it's zero effort to add it to your survival kit.

It's not a replacement for the commercial ones, don't get me wrong. It's just a superlightweight addition to your survival gear.

Mine's not field-tested, btw. Not yet.

Step 5: 4 Shops

All you need:

  • a cilinder of carbon dioxide (16 gram) & its quick release - available in every bike shop
  • a big strong balloon - available in every fun shop
  • a length of paracord - available in every outdoor shop
  • some powertape - available in every sex shop

That's it. No kidding. Just visit 4 shops.

Total cost: 15 $ - 14 euro - 1000 Indian rupee

Not bad, for a device that can save your life.

Step 6: A + B

Screw the cilinder to the quick release, insert both halfway in the balloon, seal the joint with powertape & add paracord.

You're done!

Step 7: The Testing

Push the button and way you go. The balloon will inflate in a few seconds.


  • It's a good idea to remove the spring of the quick release, because in the original design the valve closes when you stop pushing. Aim is to empty the small cilinder in one push, so exit spring.
  • The stronger the balloon, the better - maybe a strong condom might work, also - think about the 4th shop.
  • Try to find a cilinder with more volume. 16 gram gives limited volume aka a small beacon.

Modify, adapt, hack & improve depending your needs.

Test it & get familiar with it.

Make it yours.

I hope you like this concept and I hope that this ible has been motivating enough to add a small piece of equipment extra to your survival kit.

Stay safe, out there.

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