Just curious....what avalanche training do you have?
I'd honestly tell you that you should invest that 500-1000$ in furthering your education instead of buying a false sense of security. If you find yourself pulling a bag, well, I promise you've made at least one huge mistake already, and more likely several, mistakes that are almost always obvious to professionals after the fact. I don't know the exact stat so excuse me, but in some scary percentage of fatal avy accidents, investigators noted that the victim ignored, missed, or underestimated 1 or more glaring issues in the snowpack.....I think the most common was people skinning right past recent avy activity on a similar slope/aspect en route to their planned ascent/descent.
I'm not knocking the use of bags, but I live in CO......Summit County....and I see a lot of people buy a bag and treat it like Superman's cape.
My work issues me a bag (mammut), and I use it (more so because if I get caught in something and made the decision to not take advantage of an available and work-provided safety device, I'm afraid it could hurt me legally/financially), but there's this strange tendency for people to make increasingly risky decisions because they feel a security that doesn't exist. There was a similar phenomenon back when beacons became standard equipment. Everyone expected that avy deaths would go down due to improved equipment. What they found instead was that the deaths went up. They believe it was because whatever gain in safety was wiped out by the fact that people with little experience or knowledge factored wearing a beacon into what the decided was an acceptable risk. Of course, we know now that beacons are used a lot more for body recovery than they are for live recovery, so that effect dwindled, but it could happen again with bags.
As a pack the mammut is actually pretty damn comfortable, holds a lot, and the load sits in a great spot (transporting up to maybe 30-40lbs of explosives anyway, never carried more), I also like the a-frame ski carry design. If anything, it's really fucking heavy though!! even carrying nothing more than lunch/snacks and a layer or whatever, the cannister is fucking burly. It's not terrible because of how it sits, and the waist strap/chest strap is well-designed, but it is something to consider when shopping around, especially if you're skinning/hiking to a zone instead of hitting sled laps.
In other words, and I'm sorry if this came across as condescending, just don't be lulled into complacency because you've got an airbag. If you're 17, have limited experience, and a bag, you're pretty much the poster child for bad news. Keep that in mind. That doesn't mean you have to make decisions or behave like an inexperienced, overconfident 17 year old, though. I know a kid who just turned 21 who eats my lunch not only as a skier, but a sledder, a routefinder, and pretty much any other barometer of mountain safety/travel. So, age is just a number, but then again, that kid grew up doing it day in day out, and is just a gnarly motherfucker.
No substitue for information, practice, and experience. Link up with some older people who live that lifestyle, and soak it all up.