Avalanche Beacon Testing

We’ve been practicing with an assortment of current model avalanche beacons for an upcoming article in the print magazine. The bulk of our testing has focused on mid-level beacons aimed at solid recreational users like the BCA Tracker 3, Barryvox Element, Ortovox 3+ and Pieps DSP Sport. All of these avalanche beacons feature three-antenna technology and a signal marking function (suppression in the case of the Tracker 3) for multiple burial scenarios plus a simple single-button user interface. As you might notice from the photos, we’ve also kept a few well-known models like BCA Tracker 2 and Ortovox Zoom+ and the Barryvox Pulse.

We conducted our practice sessions with a BCA Beacon Basin up at Sol Mountain Lodge in British Columbia’s Monashee Mountains. The beacon basin is a set-up with multiple buried transmitters all controlled from a central switch box. Sol’s set-up has five buried beacons and allowed us to set up consistent test scenarios and a wide variety of multiple burial situations.

Our field testing proved that each of these beacons is incredibly efficient at finding a single buried signal, the most likely real-world scenario for the bulk of avalanche beacon users. From seasoned veteran to rank beginner, single burial searches were picked off with ease. The digital processors and three-antenna designs ensure a smooth transition from initial signal detection through coarse and fine searching. Processing speed and signal detection range varies between beacons but made little impact on overall search times for a singe burials. Subtle differences revolved around the style of tones and the fine search interface, with each beacon offering a slightly different approach but all working very well.

Where the beacons start to show more significant differences is during multiple burial scenarios.  Multiple burials are statistically less common than singles but are still a factor worth considering when evaluating your next avalanche beacon purchase and practicing your search skills. The bottom line is that even with signal marking or suppression technology, multiple burial scenarios require technique, practice and familiarity with your beacon’s specific features and functionality. We’ll go deeper into the details in the January issue. Here’s some photos from a day of practice searches.

Remember, solid beacon search skills are only the first step in an avalanche recovery scenario. Probing and shoveling play significant roles, too. In fact, shoveling is likely the most lengthy portion of a recovery. For more details on shoveling check these links: strategic shoveling video, research paper on strategic shoveling


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