Want to ski or snowboard off-the-beaten slopes? Equip yourself with an avalanche pack. A standard backpack fitted with a ready-to-deploy air bag, it's the only gear that can put you on top if you get stuck in a deadly slide. Pull a cord and the bag immediately puffs up, yanking you up to the surface of a galloping mass of snow. Though they don’t guarantee survival—and even if you rise to the top you still face the real danger of being shredded by tree branches and the pure trauma of a moving mountainside of snow— air bags save lives.
In most systems, compressed air cylinders provide the power to blow up the bag. But compressed air is difficult to travel with (the TSA will likely snatch the cannisters) and only work once before requiring a refill. The Black Diamond JetForce system changes the game. It uses a high-powered fan to blow up the 200-liter Cordura bag (think: super tough canvas) and is built into a low-profile ski pack. What are the advantages? It’s not one-and-done: Pull the cord by mistake and you’re not out of luck later; you also won’t have to search for a dive shop to refill that compressed air tanks. What’s more, the JetForce automatically deflates three minutes after you deploy it making it easy to fold it back up. No, it's not guaranteed to save your life, but it is the most well suited for day of skiing on unchecked terrain. [$1,275; blackdiamondequipment.com]