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  • Beacon BBQ results

    The beacons that tasted best on the grill were those that did the worst job of searching. We sacrificed them. Lip smackin' good.

    No seriously. There were winners and loosers for sure and with any luck, Tony3, jfb, Mr. & Mrs. Baaahb, and Mr. & Mrs. Quadzilla will add their comments.

    From the get go I already had some idea of what beacons I thought would come out on top. The feedback everyone provided pretty much confirmed my biases, but it was good to get some confirmation.

    The Winners:

    #1 Mammut's Pulse & Element - especially the Element. The Pulse (in advanced mode) was a bit overwhelming for those unfamiliar with it (all the volunteer testers). Not completely, but the Element, which is essentially the Pulse in Basic Mode, was preferred by all who used it over the Pulse in the configuration I had set up for Advanced mode. Excellent range of ~60m parallel, ~45 cross-polarized.

    #2 Ava's Neo. This didn't win many endorsements while doing a single search even though it had one of the longest ranges in parallel or cross polarized receive orientation. However, as the number of victims was increased it showed it was more reliable than other beacons in that it marked reliably and then quickly knew where to go next for the 2nd strongest signal, and third. ~65+m parallel range, ~50+ cross polarized. The one feature universally NOT liked was the revert to send feature which was set to occur too quickly. This can be turned off, or increased. I think I had it set to 4 minutes.

    #3a Pieps DSP Pro. This was like for simplicity and range; ~55m parallel, ~55m cross polarized. It was very intutive with single and multiple victims, but occasionally did not mark reliably. It varied. Definitely an improvement over the old DSP, but still occasionally was flustered by the presence of a noisy analog signal in a multiple victim scenario.

    #3b Ortovox S1+. I pulled this out of the box a bit late so it didn't have as many testers use it. My bad. Nonetheless those who used it liked the display and it had similar range to the Pieps DSP; ~55m parallel, ~45m cross polarized. This is a solid improvement over earlier versions of the S1. In multiple victim scenarios it marked reliably and was very intuitive when pin-pointing location inside of 3m. After marking it immediately directed the user to the next victim..


    Tracker 3. Tracker 3 did great, as all Trackers tend to do, with a single victim scenario. The speed of update and distance accuracy make it easy to use. Range was decent too, but didn't set any records; ~45m parallel, ~ 35m for cross-polarized. Where it failed was in multiple victim scenarios. IMO this is due to the fact that it doesn't actually "mark" found victims as other digital beacons do, but rather, it ignores that signal for 1 minute (only). Thus, when there are more than 2 victims, unless you can find the next 2 without marking them, the first victim will get added back in to the mix, adding confusion. Nor can you mark the 2nd to then focus on the 3rd. Fail!

    Ortovox 3+. Again, a great, intuitive beacon for a single search, even for 2 victims. Range was on the low end, but still good; ~45+m parallel, ~40m cross polarized. It locked on to the strongest signal well, and gave intuitive directions to the victim, up to 2 victims. However, even with only 2, it was slow to respond to where to go for the 2nd signal after marking the 1st. With 3, it simply couldn't cope. Fail. It isn't a 3+, it's a 2-.

    Tracker 1. Meager range, and no easy way to deal with multiple victims without lots of practice. If you have a Tracker 1, consider upgrading, or practicing multiple scenarios regularly.
    Last edited by Dostie; 26 October 2014, 08:52 PM.

    ain't no turn like tele!

  • #2
    Thanks for hosting the beacon practice. Good to see old friends; time for some snow!

    Two of the things impressed upon me, other than Dostie's love for tented space, was that (a) the new beacons far outperform older models and (b) part of the choice of beacon depends on the scenarios in which you are likely to use it.

    For instance, if you are big mountain skiing in a large group, such as on guided tours in BC, an avalanche may be huge and cover a large territory. Having a beacon with long range and the ability to handle multiple burials is important. On the other hand, if you are skiing smaller slopes with one or two friends, where the debris field will be small and you will have a good idea where the likely single burial occured, then speed and accuracy in pinpointing the site is most important.

    In the latter scenario, what matters most, IMO, is reliability, or absence of what Dostie called "bounce". I.e. does the beacon give the range with little variation...i.e. as you approach the burial, does it go 29, 28, 27, 26 or does it go 29, 33, 24, 36 (like my old beacon does). (There were significant variations in distance accuracy, which may be somewhat unimportant, but you want a beacon that quickly gives you confidence you are moving the right direction.) Bounce also describes whether the arrow points consistently, or fluctuates right to left. In this respect, I found the Tracker 3 was best and I also liked the Mammut and Ortovox 3, although all outperformed my older beacon.

    Although it is true that some of the models "mark" poorly, all of the beacons I tried worked decently in locating the first burial, the issues on marking came up when you tried to move from the first burial to the others. This would be a huge disadvantage to a guide or trip leader who has taken charge of a search and is pinpointing locations for others to dig. And I guess it also could be a big problem if the first burial is only partial and that person can be left while you go look for others, but in many situations once you find a burial it's time to immediately start probing/digging.

    We did not have time to test which beacon sends out the strongest signal. That also might be good to know.
    Last edited by Baaahb; 27 October 2014, 11:00 AM. Reason: refine the analysis


    • #3
      Thanks Dostie, time to upgrade the software in my Pieps DSP. I have a Ortovox 3+ for my son, or other ski partner to carry
      Click image for larger version

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      Another issue (a minor one) , Is the beacon/harness comfortable to wear all day? I find I prefer the smaller/thinner 3+ to carry.
      Out West, even in bounds I will wear a beacon say in Fernie as most of my friends do.
      So you want a comfortable, unobtrusive beacon too.
      Last winter a long time ski buddy got buried, in an avy, up to his neck at Fernie, in bounds They only found his missing ski in the spring.

      Needless to mention, everyone was buying his beer in the Griz that night..
      Last edited by chamonix; 5 December 2014, 06:42 PM.


      • #4
        First things first, thanks and props to Craig for having the party. Lots of goodness there. My added observations:

        - Nobody but us geeks actually enjoy fooling around with beacons. It reminds us of really bad things. Like our mortality. Like finding dead body at the base of a cliff. Like that harmless slide we triggered that could just as easily have been harmful. Like a lot of other stupid things we have done in the past. Like the need to make hard decisions, like to not ski a magnificent powder line because it would be too risky. Like our propensity for being in denial about those things.

        - Craig summarized the winners and losers well. I would be happy with any of the winners and not with the losers. But even the losers are pretty good at single burials and have much better range (2x ) than my first-generation Tracker.

        - Each of the winners had strong points and weak points. Some bounced (mis-reported distance) more than others, some responded more slowly, some gave better information on the direction of the target, some were more intuitive to use (all were different to use).

        - I differ with Baaahb on the bounce issue. I am OK with it as long as it is consistent in telling you that you are getting closer or further.

        - All of them (even the winners) bounced a lot. None were very consistent in reporting distance outside of 20 or 25 meters, all were fine inside of that.

        - All of them behaved differently when close to the target. You really need to PRACTICE with your beacon in order to home in on a target. And this is a CRITICAL skill. You have to get close in order to shorten time needed in the probe search and time is a life and death factor. Digging takes time so you must get probe-close to reduce the excavation size to a feasible volume.

        - Multiple burials was a big differentiator. All of the winners did it well. All of them were quite different in their operation.

        - All (but one) were pretty intuitive (for me) to use. I was able to pick them up and use them immediately (to find a target) without looking at a manual. I couldn't turn one of them on without guidance (which one was it, Dostie?) but it was intuitive after 10 seconds of instruction on how to turn it on and tell it to search.

        - The user interface on all of the winners was easy but each was different. A big deal if the least-experienced person in your group needs instruction and you own a different model.

        - As easy as it was to pick them up and use them, they have some some complexities and you still need to practice, practice, practice. Although I could use them, I was not confident or comfortable with them quickly. And you NEED to be both confident and comfortable. Many times I wished that I had a few hours over multiple sessions to ingrain the operation to a conditioned reflex. Any athlete will tell you that in a game situation you do what you did in practice. And unless you practice, you will probably do the wrong thing.

        - I need to replace my Tracker with one of the winners. I owe it to my ski partners to have a beacon with better range. Better range means faster searches and improved chances of survival for burials. Just as important is replacing my wife's Tracker, because she would be the one trying to find me.

        - I NEED TO PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. WITH MY NEW BEACON. I owe it to my ski partners. And they owe it to me.

        Be safe out there.

        edited to add content.
        Last edited by jfb; 27 October 2014, 09:46 AM.
        It's turns! Of course it's worth the hike!


        • #5
          For reference/convenience: Dealing with bouncing avy beacons

          ain't no turn like tele!


          • #6
            Interesting stuff; thanks Craig.

            One question, when you talk of range I assume you mean range of the searching beacon, not the buried bacon (and I assume you tested all the searching ranges using the same buried transmitting beacon). Did you test transmitting range? That is, for the same searching beacon, would a buried Mammut Pulse be easier to find than a buried Tracker? The reason I ask is that I (like many here I suspect) have an older Tracker, as well as a newer Tracker (and am now thinking of getting a Pulse or something new). I use the new beacon myself, but use the older one when friends or kids come along who do not have their own beacon. Am I really sacrificing the ability to find the person who may be buried with an old beacon?


            • #7
              Lynn and I were there and the way Craig set it up was a capacity test of the beacons themselves and not a beacon practice, but we did indeed practice for almost three hours. He had a 60m trail with a stake every 10m. For single burial test he set a beacon in send at 0 on a stump so we knew where the beacon was. He had every 2014 beacon and we each took a beacon, walked out to 60m, turned it on and set it on search. we would then let the beacon boot up and move forward and noted the distance acquired the signal. we also note the distance in X polarized. Then we just moved forward and evaluated how well the beacon stayed on the track to the sender.

              So, everybody tested every beacon and brought back the data to Craig. We then moved on and tested in a similar fashion and evaluating the ability and ease to do two and three beacons placed near 0 in send mode as in a multiple burial. We noted where the beacons picked up the multiple signals. We all did a lot of laps up and down that trail.

              Everybody who showed is a recreational skier and had beacon experience to a functional level but no experts. Craig is a beacon professional but other than how to turn on and off the beacons, there was not much assistance. He wanted for us to figure it out, ease of use and no bias.

              OK, what Lynn and I got out of it. We have Tracker 1 analog beacons. the pluses are that they are durable and easy to use with gloves on. What we found out was that they didn't have the distance ability as compared to the new digital models. We would pick up signals at around 40m, the digitals mostly around 60-50m. More importantly, once the Trackers got the signal you had to move slowly toward the sender, stopping occasionally to reconnect. But you got there. The digitals, once you got signal and locked in, you could move more quickly following the screen. So, maybe upwards of a couple of minutes difference with our test. Multiple scenarios, being effective with a Tracker is tough and a slow process even with practice. Digitals, comprehensive and faster using the screen, icons and written feedback on the screen.

              Anyway, for both Lynn and myself we liked the Mammut Pulse and Element the best, just easy to use and with gloves. Second was both The Pieps was close, didn't like the on and off as well.

              Lastly, we agree with the above comments too.
              Last edited by Quadzilla; 27 October 2014, 11:00 AM.
              "Just say no to groomed snow"


              • #8
                Originally posted by jfb View Post
                - I differ with Baaahb on the bounce issue. I am OK with it as long as it is consistent in telling you that you are getting closer or further.
                As I understand it, bounce is not a measure of accuracy but of consistency. I edited my post to remove the misleading statement that might have triggered this response. I agree that the high (25%) degree of inaccuracy some of the beacons had in measuring distance is not that significant.
                Last edited by Baaahb; 27 October 2014, 11:13 AM.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Baaahb View Post
                  As I understand it, bounce is not a measure of accuracy but of consistency. I edited my post to remove the misleading statement that might have triggered this response. I agree that the high (25%) degree of inaccuracy some of the beacons had in measuring distance is not that significant.
                  Agreed. Perhaps more important is that the directional arrows were quite consistent in pointing to the target location. That's what keeps you going in the right direction. For single targets, anyway. Multiple targets really messed with those not identified in the "winner" category.
                  It's turns! Of course it's worth the hike!


                  • #10
                    Back east we hide bottles of beer with our target beacons....

                    Seriously, thanks to one and all, for this great work. My old Tracker 2, while useful is going to be relegated to target status, Element looks pretty good as a timely upgrade..

                    Now, back to that important caveat....strap those target beacons to cold beers....most folks will really hustle so they get it while it is still cold....

                    Sadly, none of the beer victims survive their rescue
                    Last edited by RobRoyMeans; 27 October 2014, 01:40 PM.
                    Go for adventure, take pix, but make certain to bring'em back alive!


                    • #11
                      Thanks Craig for hosting and proctoring. It was great to meet you and all the others who attended. 'Turns out I recognized Bob (actually Daisy), Ron and Lynn from tours and skintracks.

                      Without rehashing what has already been said, my big takeaway is that the new beacons (the winners) are enough better than my 12 year old tracker that I can't justify not getting the new technology.

                      In these tests my tracker's range was around 33m though the readout said 40 (flux lines...). By itself, the new beacons' extra range would not have convinced me. The extra range combined with the ease of searching for multiple beacons convinced me. Admittedly, it had been a few years since I had practiced a multi-beacon search with my tracker. It went pretty much as I remembered with alternating/conflicting signals even after switching to SP mode. It was possible to sort thru the "noise" of the other beacon but the test was probably flawed as I knew where the other beacon was. The ease of doing the multiple searches with the new beacons (on the first try without reading the manual) was more impressive than I would have ever guessed. It takes you to one signal, allows you to fine search without confusion, you mark it and it takes you to the next signal like it was just another single beacon search. I'm guessing a third of my backcountry skiing is solo, a third is with one partner and a third is with bigger parties. I like to think we only expose one person at a time but I know better...


                      • #12
                        Nice Work! i have a ortovox 3+ that is a couple years old, i love the single AA bat (all my devices use AA) and the interface and package is very user friendly, however i have been somewhat disappointed in the performance, especially, as you noted, on multiple burials. this thread has pretty much convinced me that no matter how much i like the package i really should bite the bullet and get a element :^(


                        • #13
                          vertical earl..Have you updated the software on your Ortovox 3+? You can get it updated, I think the new software makes it better for multiple burials..


                          • #14
                            Thanks for doing this Craig. I wonder if you buried the transmitting beacons all with the same orientation or if there was some variability in that.

                            One feature of the Ortovoxes that you didn't mention is their ability to detect when their x axis is oriented in a vertical plane during transmit and automatically switch to transmitting from the y axis antenna---Smart Antenna Technology. This reduces range but also decreases errors due to orientation. I think it is a significant feature. With that said, I have a 3+ and I do find that the faster you move in search, the more errors in distance you see that are corrected as the software continues to process the signal but if you do try to move too fast too early in the search, it can be misleading enough to send you off in the wrong direction for a bit. It seems like that shows up in the negative errors on the graph in your article if your transmitting beacon is an Ortovox and the orientation of the transmitting beacon in the test is not always optimal. It also illustrates the importance of reading the manual.


                            • #15
                              Search practice story.

                              Some years ago, during our 3rd annual beer rescue, during a very vague "last seen" exercise, I was jogging in a serpentine down the hill with my Tracker 2 and finally got signal. In the next 3 minutes got within 3 meters but could get no closer.

                              My buddy was slower to the spot, but having quicker wits found the beer. He had rotated his transponder and his arrow pointed up, he looked up and sure as shootin, there was the bag with the beer and beacon, hanging in the branches about 11-12 feet above the ground. While he was climbing I rotated my Tracker and the light showed me the way .... DOH!

                              I had to wait for the next round to get a beer....bloody thirsty by then.
                              Go for adventure, take pix, but make certain to bring'em back alive!