BOISE -- An avalanche that killed two skiers in Eastern Oregon, could have been even more tragic.

The woman most seriously injured was wearing a device that helped save her life.

It's called an airbag, and it comes in a backpack.

Experts say if an avalanche does hit, you just pull the lever and it will inflate and help you stay on top of the tumbling snow.

It's a device that the Baker County sheriff says Susan Polizzi had on while backcountry skiing in the Wallowa Mountains on Tuesday.

Around noon, an avalanche hit killing two of the eight people in the ski party, and injuring two more.

Polizzi was caught in the slide and broke two legs and an arm, but lived.

Chris Haunold with Idaho Mountain Touring is a backcountry skier and believes the airbag saved Polizzi's life.

If she was in an avalanche that was traumatic enough to break bones, my guess is without the airbag she probably would have died, so she was injured but she's alive, said Haunold.

He says it has also saved many others caught in serious slides.

That's what these devices are designed to do, is to give you one more tool to hopefully survive a bad situation, said Haunold.

Haunold admits the best protection is knowledge and having the tools to avoid an avalanche.

But, if one hits, the airbag can help you survive. It fits in a backpack that you can use for your tools and personal belongings.

If the snow starts to slide, you can pull the lever to stay above the danger.

What this is doing is as your sliding it's like a life preserver, it will make you buoyant, said Haunold.

Haunold says the airbags have been around for years, but were too expensive for most.

But recently, the cost has come down and the number of airbags in the backcountry have gone up.

Now they've come down to $500, which to me is just really cheap insurance if you're going to be going into avalanche, avalanche country, said Haunold.

The sheriff tells us Polizzi was the only person in the Eastern Oregon avalanche who was wearing an airbag-type device.

Experts say this weekend, avalanche dangers will continue to be high, so be careful if you plan to head out.

Read or Share this story: