Sunday, 28 December 2014

Transcivers, Age and Reliabity

Glencoe Mountain Beacon Training Park
One of the upsides of avalanche education is the positive take you can give on back country skiing. You are giving folks practical and thinking tools to enjoy earning their turns and getting into it. It's really just a question of making decisions based on forecasting, being observant  and also being flexible and willing to change plans. 

For example, take time to evaluate the local avalanche forecast with your friends or partners and try an apply it to the area you want to ski. Use all your senses while in the mountains and look around for snow movement and where its blowing to, feel what the snow is like under your feet. Have open honest group discussions to reach a consensus on go/no go before dropping in and getting committed. Have a rescue plan and be sure you have practised rescue drills.

I have the luck to be able to train folk on a mountain with a good beacon park for practising rescue drills and its great to see folk pop in and practise. Some of the transmitters are very deep and its interesting to observe even quite experienced folks getting thrown out by deep burials. It's also interesting to observe the use of the multitude of different avalanche beacons and their various features.

In the current range of modern digital beacons there are no bad ones. Some however are faster than others due to a faster processor. Sometimes this is because the beacon has fewer features so its not tied up with digital compass's or processing signal suppression.  Often times its slower because the operator is going too fast for the processor to update. Regardless, all the current three antenna beacons are effective and speed differences are only apparent in a side to side comparison. 

I sell three makes of beacon.  ARVA, Ortovox and BCA.  When at Joint Services Mountain Training I had a fleet of fifty four Mammut "Pulse" to keep updated and working. So I have used quite a few different models.  I can say hand on heart that if your buying a new beacon always get a digital three antenna model. The little bit extra for three antennas is worth every second of the time and oxygen it will save your friends.  

I see a lot of second hand transceivers for sale on forums at the moment. Ask yourself why these folks are selling them. I am sure most are out of warranty. Some are two antenna (thankfully no dangerous analog are being sold). Some of these two antenna beacons were state of the art in their day. And some are still quite fast and being sold from new stock. They require the user to be knowledgeable about signal spikes and practised in what that is and how to overcome it.  As I said above why are folk selling these?  I think because they know in their heart its slower and glitchy and requires more practise.  The best thing they could do is keep the old one and use to bury and find with their newer faster three antenna model.  I wouldn't sell you a two antenna one and I personally wouldn't advise buying one second hand or new.
A lonely ski found at the site of an avalanche burial in summer
So my conclusion is that a three antenna beacon is a must.  Two antennas are better than nothing but be prepared to train lots more with one, as if you don't then you won't find deep burials easily and will be probing a lot more to pinpoint a victim.  In training I have found that folk using a two antenna beacon are from one to five minutes slower depending on the buried beacon orientation and depth.

To the folk that sell their old ones I say keep them and use them for practise. To the folk buying second hand I say don't be a cheapskate over someone else's life as its not you that will be asphyxiating . However, if your that skint then any beacon is better than no beacon. 

BCA have produced a checklist for the Tracker DTS the first digital beacon.  If you have one then its worth a run through.  Tracker 1 Checklist  My advice would be upgrade to the superfast Tracker 2 or the excellent (in my view) Ortovox 3+ if you feel you can use its mark feature. The Mammut Pulse and Element and Pieps DSP Pro are also excellent but the T2 and 3+ are my favourites.

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