HOW TO CHOOSE AN AVALANCHE TRANSCEIVER
An avalanche transceiver is an essential part of any backcountry safety setup, along with your shovel and probe so it’s vital you find the right one for you and know how to use it.
This guide will take you through the following information:
- What is an avalanche transceiver
- Types of avalanche transceivers
- Number of antennas
- How to use an avalanche transceiver
- Searches with multiple burials
- How to wear an avalanche transceiver
- Using different brands together
- RECCO® reflectors
Our stores have a wide range of avalanche transceivers, so if in doubt, visit us in store and get expert advice from our knowledgeable staff.
What is an avalanche transceiver?
An avalanche transceiver, or beacon as it’s often called in North America, is a device that emits a pulsed radio signal which can be received by another transceiver. They are used for finding avalanche victims in the event they are buried under the snow.
It needs to be easy to use and you need to know how to use it before you hit the mountain.
Most European and North American resorts have companies that offer avalanche safety training where you learn about the dangers of backcountry, how to lessen them, as well as further understanding of snowpack and stability, and avalanche safety equipment and rescue. You can also find these classes in most UK snow domes.
Types of avalanche transceivers
Avalanche transceivers can either be analog or digital; the main different is how they allow you to understand the data. It’s also difficult to find a wide range of analog transceivers now as more and more technological advances are made, the less common analog transceivers are.
Digital transceivers are now more common. They use multiple antennas and microprocessors to translate the transmitted data into an audible signal and visual display giving you precise information such as direction and distance to help find your victim.
Analog transceivers give out audible beeps that get louder and you approach the buried victim or another transceiver. While they do generally have a wider send and receive range they require more user knowledge and practise to be used properly.
NUMBER OF ANTENNAS
Traditional transceivers often only had one antenna, newer digital models often have two or three allowing you to choose the ‘best’ antenna. The more antennas the better to allow for maximum search capabilities.
It’s always better to use normal alkaline batteries and not rechargeable or Lithium batteries and always carry spare batteries with you just in case.
Avalanche transceivers vary in price usually depending on the number of antennas, the type of display, microprocessor, and other features. More expensive transceivers usually offer a choice of search modes from basic to advanced, as well as multiple burial functions. Be aware these will need more training and practise to use.
How to use an avalanche transceiver
More than just practising at home, you need to practise with all your avalanche safety equipment in a realistic setting; most resorts will offer a practise area.
Riding backcountry is dangerous, regardless of how experienced you are, so make sure you understand the risks and go as prepared as possible. Always carry your backcountry safety essentials; transceiver, shovel, and probe AND know how to use them.
SEARCHES WITH MULTIPLE BURIALS
Most transceivers are easy to operate and function in a similar way, especially in a single victim search.
In the event of multiple burials, different brands will display and mask or ‘flag’ found victims differently. They will either show you a number or several victim icons. You should also be able to ignore a signal after you locate and mark it allowing you to locate the next victim. Multiple burial searches are tricky and considered an advanced skill so practise rescue with your transceiver is vital.
How to wear an avalanche transceivers
It’s important to always wear your transceiver under at least one layer of clothing. In the event of an avalanche you don’t want your transceiver being pulled off your body. Many brands offer a hardness system to ensure it stays securely in place.
Using different brands of transceivers together
Modern transceivers are compatible with each other and use the international standard 457 kHz frequency. Older transceivers pre-1986 will use the 2.275kHz frequency so should no longer be used. Some transceivers can transmit and receive data on a separate W-Link frequency (868 Mhz for Europe or 915 MHz for North America); the W-Link is usually for data other than victim location.
RECCO® reflectors are small electronic chips that are often built into skiing and snowboarding jackets, pants, boots, and accessories like gloves and hats. The system works by bouncing back a radar signal to the searcher but is not related to the 457 kHz beacon frequency. A search and rescue team with a corresponding RECCO® detector unit can locate a buried victim wearing a reflector in either a ground or air search but reflectors are strictly passive devices and the wearer cannot conduct a search for a buried victim. They are never a substitute for avalanche transceivers while out in the backcountry.
Your transceiver leads to the probe, your probe leads to the shovel, your shovel leads to your friend. These three items are the most vital part of any backcountry skiers’ equipment; you should never step into the backcountry without them. With so many options on the market, finding the right avalanche safety set up can be difficult. To help clear the confusion and aid you in the decision, we have assembled a guide to walk you through everything you will need to know when purchasing avalanche safety equipment that could save your life.
Ifyou’re backcountry skiing or snowboarding this season, experience combined with the correct clothing and safety equipment (avalanche airbag, avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel) and a fully-qualified mountain guide are essential for staying safe and having fun off the piste. Read these top tips before heading out on your next adventure into the backcountry.
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