So, you’ve made the decision to get an avalanche beacon. Maybe you’re just starting out. Maybe you’ve been riding for years, but only just became aware of your own mortality.
But with a sea of different options, which one is right for you?
“Most modern transceivers are very good,” says James Floyer from the Canadian Avalanche Centre. “We recommend that people choose the three antenna transceivers. They are very good and reduce the time it takes to locate the victim.
There’s an app for that
One thing that the CAC does not recommend are the new iPhone and Android apps. “There is a new kid on the block, which is not recommended,” says Floyers. There are three apps out currently. Two are compatible with iPhone, one is compatible with Android, but none are compatible with avalanche transceivers. “The apps are not tested, they don’t meet standards and they are not compatible with actual beacons, so we recommend that people not use them.”
Basic usage tips
Before setting out onto the slopes, you should always test your transceiver and make sure that it’s working.
Beacons come with a chest harness, which is designed to be worn underneath your jacket, not over, as you want to make sure the beacon does not become detached in an avalanche. if you find the harness irritating or too small, inside a zippered pocket in your pants, shirt or jacket is also acceptable.
Note that cell phones can interfere with a beacon’s signal, so don’t bring your phone, or turn it off and make sure it is at least a foot from the beacon.
When searching, search in 30 metre strips. This is the lowest maximum range for the weakest transceivers.
While you won’t have to worry with buying a new transceiver, as they all work on the 457 KHz signal, be careful buying second-hand beacons, as there were two frequencies used. Anything made in the last 15 years will be fine.
Picking the right beacon
There is no one beacon that is perfect for all users. For people who only go out once or twice a year, a simple, bulletproof beacon is better. They are less expensive, and easy to use, though are typically not as fast in tests conducted by the CAC and groups like the Outdoor Gear Lab (www.outdoorgearlab.com).
The later group’s favourite beacon is the Mammut Pulse Barryvox, which is pricey, but a solid performer. The pulse is a little more complex to use and needs a lot of practice to master, especially some of the more complex tools.
Another popular new beacon is the Ortavox S1. Most beacons lead a searcher to the victim along an arc. However, the S1 has a pair of crosshairs. When it senses the signal fro the buried transceiver, it shows a picture of a body. Simply line the body up in the crosshairs and navigate your way to the victim.
The S1 can be a bit odd for people used to the more traditional searching pattern, but for new users, it can be more intuitive.
For people who don’t head out every weekend and aren’t looking for all the bells and whistles, the Piep DSP Sport is nearly half the price as the Mammut Pulse Barryvox, while the pro model, at $100 more, rates nearly as high as the Pulse the Outdoor Gear Labs test.
And while you don’t get all the bells and whistles with the DSP Sport, you get what’s advertised on the tin: a solid beacon that will allow you to find people buried in the snow or allow you to be found if, heaven forbid, it is you who gets buried.
The Backcountry Access Tracker 2 is a three antenna update of one of the most popular two antenna Tracker DTS, the first digital tanscievers. The Tracker 2 is relatively inexpansive, and is one of the easiest beacons to use, making it a great option for beginners.
Other popular beacons that performed well in the tests are the Arvo Neo and Pro W.
Ultimately, picking the right beacon is a matter of personal choice. Some beginners might be completly comfortable with the more complex Mammut Pulse Barryvox, while seasoned veterans might prefer the simpler solutions. When all is said and done, the best avalanche beacon is the one you will use.
Don’t underestimate the power of buying a beacon that is the same as the people you ride with most often. Some beacons (like the pulse) have special features that can only be accessed by other users of the same technology.
More importantly, though, is shared knowledge. If there are features you are unfamilar with, your riding companions can help you learn how to use the device.
Whatever beacon you get, take the time to become comfortable using it. Spend time practicing finding buried transcievers until you are comfortable using it.