Arva Avalanche Beacons – Review

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Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Overview

ARVA Models: Evolution+, A.D.vanced, 3 Axes

[November 2011 Update: All three of these models are now discontinued, replaced by new ARVA Evo3+, and with a new U.S. distribution network also.]

ARVA makes three beacons that hold their own in the current mix of brands and models: Evolution+ is a simple yet effective model that’s probably intended for a lower pricepoint, A.D.vanced is basic as well but adds a marking/masking feature for multiple burials, and the 3 Axes is the A.D.vanced with a third antenna. (The Evolution model — without the “+” — is a single-antenna beacon with digital processing yet no directional indicators.)

Backcountry Skiing

Arva 3 Axes avalanche rescue beacon.

These beacons may be difficult to find in a retail setting in the U.S. Please note this combined review is based upon my experience with an older A.D.vanced model (which lacked the current marking/masking feature) and a current 3 Axes unit. The review focuses on the 3 Axes, but notes the features of other models as well.

Interface and Controls

To switch the Arva beacon to Transmit, insert a small object that comes tethered to the beacon into the corner of the housing. Even though this switch seems to be mechanical, operating it really just presses a magnet against the beacon’s housing — in fact, you can turn on the beacon using a typical refrigerator magnet. How to tell at a glance the beacon is transmitting? Look for two flashing lights through a cutout in the harness pouch. (The insertion of the switch is not immediately obvious when looking down given the way the beacon is held in the harness pouch.)

To switch to Search, pull out the little knob at the top of the beacon. (This is easily a one-handed operation, as that little circular piece of the housing showing through the knob is *not* something you depress in order to pull out the knob -– which initially confused me.) To revert to Transmit, push the knob back in.

The search interface for the A.D.vanced and Evolution+ has an LCD distance readout and five LED directional indicators, along with Plus and Minus buttons. The Evolution+ has an LCD distance readout and five LCD directional indicators, but no other buttons.

Two minor notes:
- ARVA models are the only beacons that take four AAA batteries (as opposed to two AA or three AAA).
- The pouch on my 3 Axes was far too tight a fit to slide out the beacon easily for a search (although my older A.D.vanced was fine, and I suspect that with some use this pouch for the 3 Axes would stretch out somewhat).

How It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Pinpointing

Initial signal acquisition is via a combination of digitized sound, one or five directional indicators, and distance readout.

The directional indicators disappear at 2.0 meters (as shown on the distance readout, not necessarily as measured by the actual distance to the victim). The distance readout goes down to a minimum of 0.0 meter.

On the A.D.vanced and 3 Axes, the user can switch into analog sound with sensitivity control and digital distance readout.

How It Works: Multiple Burials

All three beacons display a symbol for multiple burials.

With the 3 Axes and the more recent version of the A.D.vanced (starting with Fall 2007), the user can mark/mask a found beacon by pushing in then quickly pulling out that same knob. The beacon will then focus on the next-strongest signal.

With the Evolution+ and older A.D.vanced, the user can scan for the number of beacons within nine different radius circles by quickly pushing in the knob at the top of the beacon and then pulling it back out. (This is the same knob that if left pushed in, will revert to Transmit.) With the Evolution+ the scanning sequence’s timing is automated, but with the old A.D.vanced the user can manual progress through the nine different radii.

How Well It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Pinpointing

The initial signal acquisition range is on the short side, yet still typical for all-digital multiple-antenna beacons. The 3 Axes, however, when switched into optional analog mode provides a significant range boost.

The 3 Axes has a third antenna that eliminates all nulls and spikes, plus the box size is very small (essentially zero).

By contrast, the current Evolution+ and A.D.vanced have only two antennas, and therefore suffer from nulls and spikes. (The Evolution+ is apparently being upgraded soon with a third antenna, while the A.D.vanced will be discontinued as only the lack of a third antenna distinguishes it from the 3 Axes.)

How Well It Works: Multiple Burials

All ARVA beacons provide a multiple-burial indicator symbol so you know any bouncing around in the distance and direction is because another person is buried.

The mark/mask feature on the 3 Axes and more recent A.D.vanced is somewhat more limited than other brands, but in a way this is an advantage. How so? Think of the 3 Axes as more of a brain-engaged approach, as opposed to the “leave the thinking to us” approach of its signal separation competition from companies such as Ortovox. So with less going on in the beacon’s thinking, there is less to go wrong, although more is demanded from the human being’s thinking.

Specifically, the 3 Axes doesn’t lock onto the strongest signal as early as its competitors, so first off you have to decide which signal to choose. Once close to the beacon you choose, the bouncing around essentially disappears. The mark/mask function was not quite as reliable as the Barryvox Pulse and Ortovox S1 (i.e., I sometimes needed second try to mark/mask with the 3 Axes), but more reliable than the Pieps DSP (with which I often need multiple tries).

The 3 Axes then *temporarily* ignores the first signal, and allows any other signals to become prominent again. The 3 Axes reliably led me to all three beacons in my test layout. However, once the third beacon was marked/masked, the 3 Axes had by then lost its mark/mask for the first beacon, which was as expected given the user manual’s depiction of that function as temporary. (By contrast, the competing models will indicate three marked/masked beacons at this stage, with the exception that the Pieps DSP often ghosts at this time.)

Combined with the lack of a beacon count (as opposed to just a multiple-burial symbol), my conclusion is that the 3 Axes will work almost as reliably as its competition when the number of victims is known, but will be more confusing if the number of victims is unknown. That said, with a far more simple user interface and fewer controls, the 3 Axes is less confusing for a single burial.

As with all other beacons we’ve tested, multiple-burial performance dropped off considerably when searching for Ortovox F1 beacons. Marking/masking the first beacon often seemed to mark/mask the other beacons too. The more prominent role of the optional analog mode was very helpful here.

For the Evolution+ and older A.D.vanced, the scan feature can be helpful, although it can also take up valuable time when proceeding through nine different radii.


Overall: To What Kind of Person Does This Beacon Appeal?

The 3 Axes should have wide appeal. It keeps things simple for a single-burial search, but has the third antenna for pinpointing accuracy, a simplified mark/mask feature for multiple burials, and an optional analog sound mode. The A.D.vanced is also a capable unit, but the 3 Axes is superior without any drawbacks (hence the A.D.vanced is being discontinued). The Evolution+ is essentially the 3 Axes but without most of the advanced features (although still with a multiple-burial indicator and scan function), and currently without a third antenna although reportedly being upgraded at some point.

Overall: What Thoughts Go Through My Mind If a Partner Has This Beacon?

For all three beacons:
“Where/how did my partner get this beacon?”

For newer A.D.vanced and 3 Axes:
“My partner will be a whiz at multiple burials if the switch is correctly manipulated (and not inadvertently put back into Transmit), although searching will be more difficult than other signal separation beacons if the number of burials is unknown.”

For Evolution+ and older A.D.vanced:
“My partner had better be well-practiced and skilled for a multiple-burial scenario.”

For Evolution+ (until it is upgraded with a third antenna) and A.D.vanced:
“My partner needs to be able to resolve nulls and spikes while pinpointing.”

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Overview

(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or promoting the NE Rando Race Series, he works as a financial economics consultant.)

Comments

9 Responses to “Arva Avalanche Beacons – Review”

  1. Bryce March 3rd, 2009 10:34 am

    They shouldn’t be that hard to find. Wasatch Ski Distribution, US distributor of Ski Trab — the fine, very light, handmade Italian skis, also distributes these in the US. I guess he’s just not finding a huge market for them on the retail side because he can get them, and he’s pitching them. I almost ordered a few 3Axes for next year … but didn’t.

  2. Lou March 3rd, 2009 10:38 am

    Bryce, you’re right, I’ve got Wasatch Ski linked from our beacon chart as a seller of Arva. See http://www.wildsnow.com/1476/avalanche-beacon-review-intro/

    I think what Jonathan meant in the review was that it’s hard to find them in a retail setting where you can check them out, as they’re not well distributed. I’ll edit. Thanks.

  3. Snowboarding09 March 3rd, 2009 11:54 am

    So are these beacons available for anybody to buy. How much do they usually cost?

  4. Lou March 3rd, 2009 3:48 pm

    Mr. Snowboarding09, for buy links to all beacons see chart in this blogpost:
    http://www.wildsnow.com/1476/avalanche-beacon-review-intro/

  5. bruce March 4th, 2009 10:16 am

    Well,we can probably rest assured that the Tracker 2 will be a good beacon.
    We already know that it won’t have many of the bells and whistles that other models have, but there are plenty of people out there who will buy it and be happy with it.
    —————————————-

    bruce

  6. Jeff March 4th, 2009 2:43 pm

    I used the Arva 9000 for about the last 4 years and think highly of Arva. I recently upgraded to the Ortovox Patroller mainly because of the single antennae in the 9000. But, one of the main gripes I had about my Arva was the transmit/receive switch. On more than one occasion during a burial exercise, I would pull the knob out to receive, undo the waist strap so I could keep it level and arc directionally, locate the body/signal, and when I’d start digging or probing I’d hit the knob on my thigh and it would easily push back in to transmit. Whereas everyone standing around beside me would get the sudden “it’s a multi burial, there’s another signal”. After doing this a couple times, after locating the signal I’d just take the thing off and set it in the snow.

    Hopefully with the new ones they’ve built in a two hand operation to switch it back to transmit from receive.

  7. Jonathan Shefftz March 4th, 2009 7:40 pm

    Jeff, the Search > Transmit switchover on the current models seems to be identical to that on the old ARVA 9000. I can see how what you describe could occur. But it’s an interesting design challenge for a switch to be both easy to revert to Transmit in an emergency yet not too easy to be inadvertently bumped into Transmit as you describe. Some beacons have automated switchovers after a specified time or after a specified period of inactivity. A hard balance to achieve….

  8. Snowboarding09 March 5th, 2009 10:56 am

    Thanks Lou, your help is much appreciated.

  9. Jonathan November 12th, 2011 12:23 pm

    All three of these beacons are now discontinued, replaced by the new Evo3+, which I’ll be reviewing later this month. And note that ARVA now has new U.S. distribution, in stock now at Backcountry.com and many other retailers.

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