Backcountry Access Tracker 2 — Avalanche Beacon Review


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Intro and Index

The original Tracker DTS was the breakthrough pioneer in using more than one antenna to provide directional indication: in other words, a beacon that directs you where to go, instead of leaving it up to you to interpret varying signal strength in relationship to various combinations of your position and orientation.

If the preceding sentence sounds complicated, that’s because searching with the ancestral analog-only beacons was indeed complicated. That’s why the original Tracker was such a pioneer (i.e., in making it all less complicated), becoming and remaining by far the dominant best-selling beacon in its native North America even over a decade later after its introduction. And as such, even a vintage version of the original Tracker is one of the few backcountry skiing products (other than nearly any model of from its time that is still an effective choice today.

BCA Tracker 2 avalanche rescue beacon transceiver.

BCA Tracker 2 avalanche rescue beacon transceiver.

The long-awaited new Tracker 2 addresses some of the original Tracker’s shortcomings, while still remaining true to BCA’s original ease-of-use intentions (and successes). I greatly enjoyed handing my Tracker 2 to students at avalanche courses and responding to their standard question of “how do I use this?” with a quiet stare intended to convey “just look at it for a few seconds to figure it out.”

So with BCA’s further improvements upon the original Tracker’s strengths, what is there to criticize? The competition (Ortovox, Barryvox/Mammut, and Pieps) would point to the Tracker 2’s lack of a multiple-burial marking/masking feature (as opposed to its “Special Mode” that narrows the search angle window).

BCA’s two-pronged answer is that such a feature inevitably entails additional design complications that can confuse a user, and that such a feature is highly unlikely to be needed. For the former, read my other reviews of the competition, try them out, and decide for yourself. For the latter, this is a far more complicated issue, involving statistics, tradeoffs, and personal travel tendencies. Some interesting articles on the subject are available from the American Avalanche Association in this issue of The Avalanche Review.

Interface and Controls

To switch the Tracker 2 to Transmit, turn a switch 90 degrees at the back of the housing. How to tell at a glance the beacon is transmitting? Look for the blinking red light. Also, the beacon will beep periodically if kept in Transmit for more than 8 hours to remind you that it’s still on and potentially wasting batteries if your tour is complete. Ditto, it will periodically beep when in Search for more than 30 minutes (or perhaps to chastise you if you’re taking so dangerously long in finding your partner?).

Perhaps the beep after 8 hours operation feature could be taken as congratulations for being on a nice long tour, but in Lou’s case, he shared that many of his backcountry days exceed 8 hours, and to him the beeping was simply annoying and confusing, as in “why is my beacon suddenly doing this beeping thing, is something wrong with it?”

To switch over to Search, pull out a large sliding switch at the bottom of the beacon. To revert to Transmit, just bump in that same large protruding switch, which will also trigger a warning sound. Note that the beacon cannot be turned directly to Off while still in Search. (The Tracker 2 also has an automated revert-to-transmit feature — after five minutes in Search, with a warning sound for the final 30 seconds before reversion — but like the final iteration of the original Tracker, it must be selected upon each start-up.)

ARVA beacons pioneered this switch design, but BCA’s version is much better executed, with a switch that is very easy to grasp, and with just the right amount of resistance, as well as very clear labels. During my range tests, even a relatively quick round with a limited set of models entails about a hundred Transmit<>Search switchovers. Previously I’ve felt that each model’s switch had its pros and cons, but the Tracker 2 switch is my all-time favorite by far, and exceedingly obvious too even to a panic-prone inexperienced user. This may sound like a trivial consideration, but read the all-too-frequent accounts of real searches being fouled up by a mobile “rogue signal” from a “searcher” still in Transmit and you might reconsider.

The search interface is super simple: distance readout and five directional indicators (as with the original Tracker, all LED, which some users find easier to read in certain lighting conditions, as compared to most competing models’ LCD screens), along with a deliberately subtle button for Special mode and an indicator light for a multiple burial.

Also, although the size and weight are just a bit under the original Tracker (about an ounce and half with the harness included), the shape is significantly more ergonomic when in a user’s hand for searching. The housing is also rubberized, except for the battery compartment door. (Just be careful when opening that door not to get too carried away with backing out the screw, as it can be inadvertently removed entirely.)

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

The Tracker 2 starts off with digital audio, LED distance readout, and one of five LED directional indicators. The directional indicators shut down in the final “fine” search at a 2.0 distance readout (which as with all beacons can differ significantly from the actual distance).

How It Works: Multiple Burials

Tracker 2 has an indicator light for more than one received signal, and the light will blink if both received signals and the searcher are all within close proximity.

Also, pressing the Special mode button narrows the search angle (e.g., in an attempt to exclude an already found beacon) and simultaneously releases any lock on the strongest signal. Note that the Special mode button has been deemphasized in position, contour, and coloring as compared to either of the two previous housing designs for the original Tracker. Upon a quick glance, a user might not even realize the button is there, or can be pressed. This is by intent, to prevent searches from being compromised by inadvertent use of this feature, and based on BCA’s conclusions from its research that those multiple burials that do occur would only rarely benefit from a multiple-burial-specific feature.

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

The range for initial signal acquisition depends upon, well, how you define initial signal acquisition. In optimal alignment coupling (i.e., the target beacon’s transmitting antenna is pointing directly at the searcher’s direction of travel), the Tracker 2 displays consistent distance readouts at a range on a par with the Barryvox Pulse and the Ortovox S1. But the directional indicators kick in at only a couple meters earlier than the current version of the original Tracker (whose range has been boosted a bit over its decade-plus existence).

In suboptimal alignment coupling (i.e., the target beacon’s transmitting antenna is pointing perpendicular to the searcher’s direction of travel), the Tracker 2 displays both distance readouts and directional indicators at a range on a par with the Barryvox Pulse and the Ortovox S1, but in a noticeably more jumpy and inconsistent manner. This behavior disappears once the searcher picks a direction and starts following it. (In other words, the target’s flux line is 90 degrees to the searcher, and once the searcher becomes aligned with the flux line, everything is matched up.) This behavior also disappears once the searcher gets within the same range of the initial signal acquisition for the original Tracker.

Conclusion (translation?) of the prior paragraph? I don’t see these differences in range performance as a compelling reason to use the Pulse or S1 over the Tracker 2. But if you place a very high priority on range, then the Pieps DSP is still the directional range champ among multiple-antenna models, although the Pulse has a somewhat obscure single-antenna analog-only mode that outdistances even the DSP.

The original Tracker was still the master (at least in my mind) of the single-burial secondary search phase, i.e., fast processing, reliable behavior, and no distractions. BCA claims the Tracker 2 has even faster processing, the goal being smoother searches with no lags or temporary display pauses. The Tracker 2 certainly works well in this area, although the original Tracker was already fast enough as far I could tell. Most importantly, remember that a transmitting beacon sends out a signal only once every second, so a search beacon can never update its directional indicators and distance readout faster than once per second. Some of the more complicated competing models that try to separate out signals can indeed exhibit noticeable lags, but this is usually only for multiple burials. Overall, the Tracker 2 does indeed offer fast processing, but any improvements upon the original’s admirable performance in this area are hard to both achieve and perceive.

In general though, the Tracker 2 is also the most tolerant of erratic behavior. If you find yourself waving your beacon around like a parade flag, well, first off all, you shouldn’t, but if you’re going to, the Tracker 2 is probably your best option (besides behaving in a more controlled manner).

In the final “fine” search phase, the Tracker 2 has a commendably small box size, and the third antenna eliminates nulls and spikes, a notable and important improvement upon the original Tracker.

How Well It Works: Multiple Burials

The Tracker 2 has an indicator light to confirm the presence of a multiple burial. A single Ortovox F1 beacon will cause the Tracker 2 to ghost, i.e., to indicate a false positive for the presence of a second signal. (The Pieps DSP has this same problem — two different aspects of the F1′s transmission pattern can confuse a searching beacon into concluding that the single signal of an F1 is coming from two different beacons.) However, the ghosting is only with the indicator light — the distance readout and directional indicators will behave as they should.

The indicator light will then blink if the searcher and more than one victim are all in close proximity. In other words, the indicator light means you have to search for more than one beacon, and a blinking light means the search is about to become especially difficult. In a few simulated close-proximity configurations, the light blinked reliability.

So if that light is blinking, then what?

As with the original Tracker, the Special mode on the Tracker 2 can help, by narrowing the search angle window, and allowing a skilled user to effectively block out an already found beacon, whether instead of or combination with the Three Circle method or similar strategies. Back when my wife and I regularly practiced multiple-burial searches with our original Trackers (with a method of our devising that was similar to the Three Circle when it came out later), sometimes we used the Special mode, and sometimes we didn’t. The more subtle configuration of the Special mode button on the Tracker 2 housing seems to reflect this. (As for how well the marking/masking/flagging features perform on the more complicated signal separation competition, see my other reviews, and even better, try to find a local ski shop that will allow you to demo under realistic simulations, i.e., not just inside the store.)

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

The original Tracker appealed to a user who wants a relatively simple and straightforward directional beacon, and doesn’t want to bother with any special multiple-burial features or other complications. As such, its only direct competitor (and that has been available in North America) has been the D3.

Or, to quote an often-used — and unfortunately rather sexist — line, “The Tracker is the beacon you give to your girlfriend.” In other words, if your plan (as ill-advised as it may be) is to be a relatively unpracticed user (and if you don’t place a high priority on close-proximity multiple-burial features), get a Tracker, or D3.

In these reviews I usually shy away from any rankings (whether ordinal or cardinal), but the Tracker 2 is definitely a superior beacon to the original Tracker, with no apparent tradeoffs. As a user of the original Tracker said upon trying the Tracker 2: “They made it even more idiot-proof: I didn’t think that was possible.” I can’t think of any way in which the original Tracker is better than the Tracker 2 (yes Lou, the original didn’t have the 8 hours in-use beep so perhaps that’s a plus). That said, the improvements are not necessarily so significant that a skilled and experienced Tracker owner should rush out and upgrade to the Tracker 2.

The other ranking I’ll offer is that I expect the vast majority of users will prefer the Tracker 2 over the D3, mainly because the D3 offers only three directional indicators (which can lead to more jumpy behavior), and because of the perfectly designed Transmit<>Search switch on the Tracker 2. (Note that for the 2010-11 season, the D3 will lose its pouch and tether, instead taking on the all-strap harness system of the Patroller and become the Digital Patroller, though all other aspects will remain the same.)

As for the Tracker 2 versus the more complicated competition, my assistant, focusing on ease of use in a panic-prone situation, asked me, “Why would anyone other than a professional guide, you, or your friend Mark (who just passed a three-beacons-in-six-minutes exam for his L3 course buy any other beacon?” The answer (unless you’re obsessed with range) revolves almost entirely around how likely you think a multiple burial search is, and whether your effectiveness as a searcher in such a scenario would be enhanced by marking/masking/flagging features specific to multiple burials . . . and whether your effectiveness in a single burial might be hampered by the more complicated user interface that goes along with such features.

So read the reviews, check out the user manual pdf files on-line, try some demo units, and decide for yourself — personal preferences play a major role in this decision, so by all means, use a beacon that *YOU* are *comfortable* with, not the beacon that someone else says you should use.

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

“My partner had better be well-practiced and skilled for a close-proximity multiple-burial scenario.”

“Otherwise, although in general I sure hope my partner is not an idiot, this is the most idiot-proof beacon ever, even more so than the original Tracker.”

Manual

Shop for BCA Tracker 2 beacon.

WildSnow Beacon Reviews Intro and Index

(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.)

(Note from Lou: I picked my Tracker2 up at the OR show and have been testing it quite a bit in my more informal way in comparison to Jonathan. As always, the simplicity of the unit is my favorite part, and the faster signal processing really does result in a smooth intuitive search process without the confusing “blanks” in the readout you used to have to deal with. You can move fast, wave the thing around, and you’ll still get to your friend fast. I’m not very concerned with multiple burials being a beacon design criteria, so smooth searching, simplicity and range, those look good with the Tracker 2 so it looks good to me. It’s also a bit smaller than the DTS, which is somewhat bulky, so good on that as well. My only gripe, please loose the annoying 8 hour beep.)

Comments

48 Responses to “Backcountry Access Tracker 2 — Avalanche Beacon Review”

  1. RandoSwede March 31st, 2010 9:49 am

    Great review. I agree with Lou on the multiple burial features. I keep thinking that multiple burials are an educational issue for most users. You made a mistake if one person gets buried but you really screwed the pooch if several in your party get buried. Granted, multiple burial features are very valuable for ski patrols/SAR working an in-bounds/side country avalanche. And Ditto for guides (sort of). But as a recreational user, if you think you need that ability, then perhaps that money would be better spent on a Level 1 or 2.

  2. Jonathan Shefftz March 31st, 2010 10:36 am

    RandoSwede, points well taken, but for the final sentence:
    “But as a recreational user, if you think you need that ability, then perhaps that money would be better spent on a Level 1 or 2.”
    – Any recreational user had better take at least a L1 avy course, regardless of beacon model ownership. (I’m a big fan of book learning, and I really wish avy courses would assign mandatory pre-course learning, but in-person expert training is still indispensable.)

  3. Bryce March 31st, 2010 11:15 am

    Thanks Jonathan for your detailed reviews. One note from BCA’s research: in 10 years of avalanche reports, 91.8 percent of beacon searchable avalanche events were for a single victim. Take a class, pay attention to the conditions, go one at a time, carry a Tracker.

  4. Mark W March 31st, 2010 11:22 am

    Very useful and thorough review Jonathan. If I were in the market for beacon, I’d buy the Tracker 2.

  5. Clyde March 31st, 2010 11:28 am

    Ortovox raised some interesting points in their e-blast titled “DON’T BE MISLED BY “REAL-TIME” TRANSCEIVER HYPE.” Perhaps you should address those issues.

    As for multi-burials, the reality is they will become increasingly likely as more people head into the backcountry. Even L5 avy courses don’t mean diddley when there are a dozen other parties in the same area as your group of “experts.” Looking at old stats from the days where people had a mountain to themselves may be misleading.

    Despite Jonathan’s comment about little need to upgrade, if you have a first-generation Tracker (or any other 10 year old beacon) it probably isn’t trustworthy unless you were smart enough to send it in for a checkup recently. The durability standards for beacons is pathetically low after all.

  6. Jonathan Shefftz March 31st, 2010 11:55 am

    Clyde, my review deliberately stayed away from bringing up BCA’s earlier marketing materials regarding real time — instead I tried to explain in more detail how any beacon updates its information. Overall, the T2 seems to have perfectly fine processing speed, but so does the competition for any single burial search. For multis, some of the more complex competition can seem to be “slower” but only b/c they’re trying to do more of your thinking for you, i.e., separately analyze and split out multiple signals.
    And agreed about questioning any beacon approaching 10 years of age. Although the *design* of the first generation Trackers is little changed from the most recent iterations of the Tracker DTS, any beacon that old is suspect.
    Also, my recently published review for the Ortovox 3+ concluded with:
    “Even as an economist writing beacon reviews, I hesitate to offer financial predictions in this context, but I expect that in North America the 3+ will be duking it out with the Tracker 2 for marketplace dominance.”
    So the same should of course be said here. (Plenty of other worthy models, but at much higher price point, with the exception of the rebadged Ortovox D3 for next season.)

  7. Ken March 31st, 2010 3:38 pm

    If I remember correctly, the Tracker uses a crystal resonator that does not break or have drift issues like other beacons, so it does not need to be sent back in, even after 10 years. It either works or it doesn’t. Almost all other beacons use a ceramic resonator that is susceptible to both breakage AND drift so they should be sent it periodically.

    I may be mistaken about which uses ceramic and crystal, however….

    Just another reason why the Tracker is the best beacon for the most people.

    Most skiers that have taken an avy course like to pretend like they’re snow scientists and experts on all things avalanche, but get real folks. When your loved ones are buried you get stupid. Keep it simple as you can with a Tracker and leave the fancy schmancy crap for your cell phone.

  8. Jonathan Shefftz March 31st, 2010 7:08 pm

    Perhaps the Tracker is less susceptible to frequency drift than are other digital beacons of its era — I have no idea, but could be true.
    However, any beacon can suffer from a broken antenna, messing up the accuracy of its directional indicators.
    And I have heard reports of old Trackers suffering from various problems, problems that aren’t immediately apparent just by turning it on into Transmit. I’m not saying that old Trackers are less reliable than other old beacons, just that any old beacon should be periodically checked for receive range, frequency drift, and directional accuracy.
    BCA provides a nice chart so that you can tell the vintage of an original Tracker:
    http://backcountryaccess.com/english/warranty/warranty_charts.php

  9. Matt Kinney March 31st, 2010 11:40 pm

    Thanks Jonathan for a comprehensive and unbiased review. Too many pro’s push beacons based solely on sponsorship obligations or good old boy systems, so I really do appreciate your work on this critical life-saving piece of gear. Thanks many times. I look forward to seeing this beacon in the field up here with ski pals and clients and running drills with it. I have had issuess performing drills with my DSP(adv) against older Trackers. Typically I have to j reset and re-search. Obviously technology is driving the competition for a better beacon. I have no idea which beacon is the best and have a very hard time making any recommendations because they are all very good as long as you practice with them a bunch.

    Also start drills and beacon searches from just beyond maximum ranges versus starting drills and checks within close distance(less than 20 feet). This seems to help eliminate ghosting and other anomalies and give the processors time to “adjust” and find the signal versus a cluster of beacons all together at a trailhead within 20 feet, driving the processor bizerko. This is another reason why I wait till the group is on the trail, not at the trailhead for drills, as the beacons are spread out, distanced from each on different azimuths which I think makes a difference during drills in regards to ghosting. Hard to explain and describe as usual on a net forum, but maybe you catch my “drift”.

    Cheers…… :smile:

  10. MB April 1st, 2010 9:34 am

    Nice Review Jonathan,

    I find it interesting that the general opinion (I’ve even perpetuated it!!) seems to be that professionals are the users who most require the a “marking/masking/flagging features specific to multiple burials.” To me this perspective assumes a high level of understanding of multiple burial strategies, and a general technological incompetency (or at least multiple burial-aid phobia) of the recreational/novice user.

    Statistical analysis and probability arguments aside; my personal observations have been that recreational and novice users need the marking/masking/flagging features most. Once proficiency with single victim rescue is reached, many recreational users want to progress to multiple victim rescue scenarios. I’ve observed that students often struggle with multiple burial techniques (micro-strip, 3 circle, falling leaf, etc.) without the aid of the mark/mask/flag features.

    The inclusion of the discreetly placed SP feature to me is a clear message that BCA acknowledges at least some usefulness (beyond marketing) in multiple burial aid.

    My point is that searches (conducted by both pro and rec) during single burial scenarios are rarely negatively effected by multiple burial aids and regardless of beacon choice, and advanced users must be proficient with single and multiple burials.

    I appreciate Jonathan’s pragmatic approach when it comes to ultimate transceiver choice, but in my mind multiple burial aids are essential. Of course multiple burials are rare, and certainly you’ve “screwed the pooch”, but no level/amount of avalanche training or years of experience gives one license to ignore the possibility for a worst-case scenario and to be equipped for such…

    FWIW- I don’t think I would appreciate that 8hr “danger zone” beeping either…

    Great to keep the discussions rolling!

  11. Rick April 1st, 2010 2:13 pm

    I am a little over “new” beacons. To me they are all the same with just minor differences. Somebody let me know when we have something that can pin point from a 100 meters to 1-2 meters of accuracy, then fine tune to a 1′ accuracy.

    until then they are all the same, just different colors IMHO

  12. Edge April 1st, 2010 8:09 pm

    Matt, don’t you think it’s realistic for there to be a bunch of transmitting signals nearby when you’re doing a real rescue? This is actually a lot more realistic than there being a bunch of signals coming from multiple buried victims. One measure of a good beacon, as Jonathan states, is its ability to handle “erratic behavior.” This includes “renegade” signals coming from other people moving around on the scene. Your beacon should be able to handle all this information and not tell you to “stop” or “stand still.” Just ask the folks at Turbo Hill what a cluster this was.

    MK, you’re right that marking features can certainly be helpful for recreationists; they can have problems mastering techniques like micro-search strips and the Three-Circle Method. However, marking is quite vulnerable to not working (and causing major train wrecks), so it’s imperative to learn these techniques anyway if you’re going to learn special-case multiple-victim searching. Of course, most multiple burials are solved the same as single burials, either “in series” or “in parallel.” These methods–and shoveling–should be practiced before moving on to “special case” techniques.

  13. John Minier April 2nd, 2010 3:20 pm

    Great review Jonathan. I think you pretty much nailed all the highlights of the Tracker 2. Like you stated in the review though, I don’t know if most of the upgrades from the DTS (besides 3 antenna technology) are good reasons to toss your DTS in the trash and dash over to the nearest gear shop to grab a T2. Better off to wait until your current beacon begins degrading with time. I also agree that the original Tracker and therefore probably the DTS will begin having both range and directional issues after many years of use. This is an issue with all beacon though, not just Trackers. So if you do have a DTS and want a Tracker 2, just sit tight – you’ll eventually wear your current beacon out.

    As far as who should use a single or multiple burial oriented beacon, and why, well that’s an age old argument. If several of us were skiing with a newbie with absolutely no prior avi training, than yeah, maybe he needs an S1. but for anyone who is serious about learning how to deal with true multiple burials, than weather or not you have a signal separating beacon is sort of irrelevant. I don’t necessarily think technology is faster than technique, at least when it comes to resolving multiples.

    Actually a little bummed that BCA added the multiple burial light and consequently entered the realm of beacons that struggle with ghosting. Not a big deal I guess. However, a big difference that I see, and correct me if I am wrong, is that the T2 isn’t continually scanning and interpreting other signals. If it happens to recognize another signal during the search the light will illuminate. This is in contrast to signal separating beacons that attempt to inform you of all multiples when you enter a scene.

  14. Gerry Haugen April 4th, 2010 10:03 pm

    My experience with 100′s of students has led me to the following conclusions:
    1) most students want to prematurely begin the mastery of multiple beacon searches because they think such mastery is equivalent to overall search mastery
    2) most students do pretty well with multiples because the masking/multiple features of beacons that have them work fairly well, and for those with Trackers, they can quickly learn and execute the 3 circle method
    however…
    3) most students don’t spend enough time on single beacon mastery, particularly with deep burials,over 3-4′ deep; these burial exercises require good, systematic probing methods, only gained in guided practice
    4) strategic shoveling needs to be emphasized, reemphasized, reiterated and imprinted on foreheads, because the best beacon search techniques fail easily in the excavation phase, losing any time gained with whiz-bang electronics

    Though I haven’t used it yet, from the previous comments I think the T2 should be a good choice for either recreationalist or experts & pros since reliability, simplicity and consistency can be of such critical importance when suddenly the s… hits the fan and you’re suddenly thrown into the need to do a search.
    Gerry H

  15. Scott Tucker November 2nd, 2010 12:48 pm

    That tracker looks a little bulky. Have you ever seen the Pieps Dsp? You should check it out. I have been using it for about 3 years and it is a great size, and works perfectly.

  16. Jonathan Shefftz November 2nd, 2010 1:35 pm

    The size of the two beacons is roughly comparable — ditto for pretty much any two beacons, although housing shapes vary widely, as do individuals preferences for what is comfortable to hold in your hand.
    Weights of the T2 and DSP are also comparable: DSP is a little under an ounce heavier with harness included, but DSP is a little over an ounce lighter if you’re not using the supplied harness. (Foregoing the supplied harness is definitely not something I advise, but I am aware of such a practice, whether using a custom harness or keeping the beacon in a pant pocket.)

  17. Lou November 2nd, 2010 2:09 pm

    This is indeed a good review thanks to Jonathan!

    Incidentally, we’ve got the BCA Float 30 airbag backpack on tap for review in a few weeks. Stay tuned. If you’re skiing non-timbered terrain airbags could be more of a life saver than a beacon…

  18. Viktor77 December 8th, 2010 12:29 pm

    I would never call the Tracker 2 the one to give to the “girlfriend”, especially if multiple burials are going to occur and I am using a Bvox Pulse. For some strange reason, in roughly 30 or so multiple burial scenarios (using a buried Tracker2 and buried Pulse) in a roughly 40x50m search area, the Tracker2 cannot be picked up/marked digitally and requires the Pulse user to switch to analog and then wait for up to 30 seconds for the Pulse and the Tracker2 to start playing nice together and get a signal The alternative is to dig out the buried Pulse and then run around like a fool trying to probe a 40x50m area. Anyone get similar results?

  19. Edge December 8th, 2010 1:10 pm

    Viktor, have you tried using beacons other than the Tracker2 buried with the Pulse? What you’re experiencing has nothing to do with the transmitting beacon, as all beacons basically transmit the same. Any incompatibility that might be occurring would be related to the receiving beacon and possibly issues regarding signal overlap and/or the Pulse W-Link feature. Would it be possible to give me a call so we can troubleshoot? 303-417-1345, x101. Thanks.

  20. Viktor77 December 8th, 2010 1:59 pm

    Many. Everything else works, old and new from BCA, Mammut, Ortovox, and Pieps. Only the Tracker2 has an issue. Putting 1 and 1 together, I conclude that Tracker2 is the one doing/not doing something that was leading to inability to mark. Ultimately, if I were on an trip with friends using the Tracker2, I would want to be ready to find everyone else quickly with the Pulse then switch to analog and then wait for the devices to sync in order to find a Tracker 2. This could be a Mammut issue, but somewhat odd that it doesn’t occur with any other beacons, new through 3-4 years old. Maybe Tracker2 wasn’t fully tested alongside the Pulse and vice versa? I don’t know anyone who fully understands how the W-link works (or why the device is called a Pulse but can’t detect one, etc.), but the Pulse seems to be a hell of a great device: fast, long range, and upgradeable with new software. I also can’t see why one beacon company would want to make their gear tough mark in the snowpack, it wouldn’t make sense. After all, putting euro multiple burial vs. US “so easy a caveman can do it” philosophies aside, everyone is working together for the sake of the buried individual(s). My point here: anyone skiing in a group with a combination of Pulse (3.0 software) and Tracker2-equipped skiers should try out multiple burial scenario in practice and really know their gear (sounds obvious). Also, this needs to be done outside the store, in the field, with beacons buried a couple of feet down in realistic conditions. There is always an alternative to either ski with only one buddy or revert to a shortsighted mantra which states that multiple burials are unlikely and the marking feature is unwarranted….but I’m sure this can get worked out.

  21. Viktor77 December 8th, 2010 2:17 pm

    It should be added that the Tracker2, though it lacks a marking function, has no problem finding a buried Pulse so it seems like one survival-minded option is to wear a Pieps, Ortovox, or the Pulse.

  22. Viktor77 December 8th, 2010 2:19 pm

    …or the older Tracker DTS

  23. Jonathan December 8th, 2010 2:45 pm

    “Anyone [else] get similar results?”
    – No.

    “I don’t know anyone who fully understands how the W-link works [...]”
    – I do. And it’s hardly mysterious. The only debatable aspect is its utility.

  24. Viktor77 December 8th, 2010 2:50 pm

    Fantastic, we have someone who can explain W-link in relation to signal overrun which results in Pulse not picking up Tracker2 as quickly as other beacons. Please, explain.

  25. Jonathan December 8th, 2010 2:53 pm

    Yes, I can explain:
    – The secondary W-Link frequency has absolute nothing to do with signal overlap.
    – The Barryvox Pulse has no problems searching for a BCA Tracker 2, whether in a single burial or multiple burial.
    (I even tested it outside just now for the umpteenth time — brr, cold out there…)

  26. XenOfBC December 11th, 2010 10:33 am

    I was on a CA Lv1 Course this past week, and we noticed the same problem as Viktor77. Watching aspiring professionals floundering around in a 3 person burial scenario was tough to watch. A few of us figured out that we should revert to analog mode, but not everybody…

  27. Jonathan Shefftz December 14th, 2010 11:57 am

    XenOfBC, just what problem with what search scenario are you referencing? That is, was the problem confined exclusively to Pulse searchers with a T2 target in a multi search? (And if so, were Pulse searchers doing fine with all other targets, and were other searchers doing fine with T2 targets?)
    Also, for anyone who thinks that somehow the W-Link has anything to do with any of this, you can test that theory easily by simply turning off the W-Link transmission.

  28. kerry December 15th, 2010 7:23 pm

    have seen the pulse have a problem picking up the T2 in multi burial sinarios, have also seen the pulse have problems with older F1′s M2′s and even an opti 3000. Worked to switch to analog or if you ran around and marked everything you might walk over the same transceiver 3 times but would usually find it in the end. worst configuration was pulse searching for pulse, T2 M2 and opti 3000 with the Pulse being the farthest beacon away from the searchers staring point. Pulse really wanted to find that other pulse would walk you over all other beacons to mark the other pulse and then would let you search for other beacons. Pulse in the analog digital assist mode where not very helpful. Have heard of others having similar problems.
    On another note some of last year’s T2’s have older program and some have a glitch where the beacon will cycle through a start up type sequence and beep at you. This will happen weather the beacon is on or off. T2 r (03 or 02) depending on soft ware version, the bat % and PO. If this is happening to you apparently all you need is a soft ware up date.

  29. karma gurmay December 22nd, 2010 10:11 am

    10 to 20 second lapses for the Pulse picking up a tracker have been noted among our profesional group. slow down and they will be picked up, and use your device with good method, holding it horizontal and downhill, pointing to the sides of a slide slightly. Tracker will need to make changes but with patience they will be found.

  30. Jonathan Shefftz December 22nd, 2010 10:20 am

    Karma, what is the nature of this 10-20 second delay you cite? Do you mean that you switch a Pulse to search well within the range of its initial signal acquisition then you just stand there for 10 to 20 seconds before it can display any information for a T2? Or something else…?

  31. Jonathan Shefftz December 22nd, 2010 10:51 am

    Just receive a copy of this from Steve over at BeaconReviews — this is a straight copy & paste from the pdf file.

    *****

    December 16, 2010

    Statement regarding compatibility between Mammut Pulse Barryvox and Tracker2 avalanche transceivers.

    Recently, a group of Level 1 avalanche students in western Canada discovered a potential problem during certain search scenarios involving a Mammut Pulse Barryvox searching for BCA Tracker2 avalanche transceivers.
    Both Mammut and BCA have conducted field tests and laboratory measurements to recreate the problem scenarios and establish a cause. However, in both the field and the lab it was not possible to duplicate the problem. Therefore, both Mammut and BCA have excluded the possibility of an incompatibility issue between properly functioning Pulse Barryvox and Tracker2 beacons.
    This result leads to the conclusion that in the problem cases, either the specific units themselves could have possibly malfunctioned or there was user error involved. BCA and Mammut recommend that the specific units involved in these cases be returned to the respective manufacturer for inspection.
    Sincerely,
    Bruce Edgerly
    Vice President/Marketing and Sales
    Backcountry Access, Inc.

  32. Jonathan Shefftz January 10th, 2011 8:02 pm

    T2 owners (from before late December 2010) should check out the BCA blog for details on a firmware update — addresses some apparently very rare issues with brief power interruptions.

  33. Viktor77 January 11th, 2011 11:09 am

    Tracker2 recall! Edge/Jonathan, it seems like the T2 is having some issues after all but maybe only with certain units. This is damned dangerous, don’t you think? I’ll stick to my guns that this is not the beacon to give to your girlfriend, or anyone else unless you’re trying to “Eiger Sanction” someone on the slopes…..

  34. Jonathan Shefftz January 11th, 2011 11:37 am

    Read the BCA blog: not a recall, but rather the latest firmware (release 4) fixes a very rare problem.

  35. Viktor77 January 11th, 2011 12:08 pm

    SIr, I’ve read it and myself/my girlfriend will stay BCA-free until this issue is resolved/next gen beacon American-made is available (I don’t like to buy foreign-made stuff). Unfortunately It seems like BCA is explaining a minute but potentially dangerous technical failure in a somewhat roundabout fashion for the polluted masses (“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”)…..However, this problem isn’t so minute that Jackson Hole Ski Patrol can continue to use it safely. No? Isn’t this problem potentially dangerous or is the Tracker2 something that professionals should avoid, but the recreational user should venture into the backcountry with complete confidence (ignorance)? Ultimately, BCA needs to simply state whether or not this “firmware” issue could result in a backcountry accident….not try to diminish the issue by stating it is merely a problem with a small number of units, etc.

  36. Jonathan Shefftz January 11th, 2011 12:13 pm

    We don’t seem to reading the same blog entry, since BCA states that the problem is already resolved:
    “As a precautionary measure, we have replaced the Jackson fleet with version 4 units, which addresses this concern.”
    According to BCA, the only outstanding issue is the extent of the problem in release versions 1, 2, and 3, and therefore whether all pre-release-4 beacons should have their firmware upgraded. (Personally, I have release 1 and never noticed any such problem. Ditto for my friends with release 2.)

  37. Lou January 11th, 2011 12:27 pm

    Also, don’t they say that if this does happen, it quickly reverts back to transmit again? It didn’t look like a big deal to me — I’m more worried about my beacon hitting a tree or a rock while I’m in the slide, than I am about a momentary software glitch. Though I would of course want it fixed just on general principal if nothing else…

  38. Viktor77 January 11th, 2011 12:28 pm

    I was under the impression Jackson Hole bought all of their Tracker2 units in 2010 after extensive selection process. If several among these T2′s are the units having problems, are these not also the same version Tracker2′s we lowly recreational skiers have been buying for the past year? Don’t get me wrong, I like BCA. I have only ever had good experiences with their customer service and other personnel who are keen to provide advice (Edge/Edgerly, etc.). It just seems to me that BCA needs to have, and proactively support, a zero-defects mentality when it comes to beacons.

  39. Jonathan Shefftz January 11th, 2011 12:38 pm

    The extent/frequency of the problem is inherently difficult to determine, and the importance of the problem is of course debatable (which is pretty much what I wrote in another recent beacon review).
    But what is clearly stated by BCA is that the problem was confined to earlier firmware releases, and an upgrade to the latest firmware is available from BCA.
    Certainly sounds to me like proactive support of a zero-defects mentality.

  40. Lou January 11th, 2011 12:40 pm

    Problem is, nothing this complex can have zero defects. Reality.

  41. Jonathan Shefftz January 11th, 2011 12:45 pm

    Along the lines of Lou’s comment, one of my partners, in noting how intermittent problems are the most difficult to sleuth, told me that in the electronics he works on, he’s come across failures that are less than one part per *million*!

  42. Viktor77 January 11th, 2011 1:02 pm

    Jonathan, does your partner develop electronics that people rely upon for survival?Somewhat of a recreational mindset, no?….everything is good and explainable until someone gets buried. Sorry, I will try to stand shoulder to shoulder with my CO brothers whenever possible versus foreign manufacturers, but I can’t drink the kool-aid in this case. I have “zero defects” in mind, or at least aspire to it, when I enter avalanche terrain. DTS = great beacon. Tracker2 = still has issues that need ironing out. Lou/John I get what you’re saying, but very respectfully do not concur with your approach when it comes to beacons.

  43. Jonathan Shefftz January 11th, 2011 1:05 pm

    “Tracker2 = still has issues that need ironing out.”
    – Such as? According to BCA, firmware release 4 fixes the problem.

  44. Jonathan Shefftz January 9th, 2012 2:37 pm

    Just noticed that this comment exchange never provided the final word: turns out the beacon design was fine, and it was the users who doing things like using batteries other than fresh alkaline. Whoops, never mind!
    Meanwhile, all sorts of reviews will be published at Wild Snow for new beacon models and significant firmware upgrades. But what about BCA? In keeping with their keep-it-simple approach, nothing new there. But I did appreciate the T2′s ease-of-use on two recent occasions:
    - First was running tests for initial signal acquisition. This entailed manipulating TransmitSearch switches something like 150 times. And with very numb fingers toward the end. The ergonomics of the T2′s switch were even more appreciated at that point!
    - Second was teaching at my avy course when a student complained that somehow his new T2 wasn’t working properly at the close-proximity dual-burial practice station. So I grabbed his beacon and found the first target within several seconds or so. Hmm, now to find the second target (while keeping the first target on). When was the last time I practiced a multi w/o a mark/mask feature? Well, I’ll just plead the fifth on that, but it all came back to me immediately and off I went. Probably about 10 or 15 seconds longer than with a mark/mask feature. Does it take practice and skill? Yes, but it’s a good skill to practice. And would the time differential increase significantly for a third target? Yes, but a close-proximity three-victim burial is likely to end up rather badly regardless.

  45. Pat Bates February 15th, 2012 5:56 pm

    While I have to agree with everything in this review of the Tracker 2, I would like readers to know that I’m on my third set of batteries this year! I lamented this to a friend who also uses this beacon and be blurted out “me too”. Doesn’t matter how good your beacon is if the freakin batteries are dead! If you haven’t gathered, I’m one pissed off customer.

  46. Edge February 16th, 2012 10:07 am

    That doesn’t sound normal, Pat. Please contact BCA at 303-417-1345. We can take a look at it and turn it around in a day. Sound good?

  47. Lou February 16th, 2012 10:22 am

    I go through a few sets of batteries every season, seems normal…

  48. Jonathan Shefftz February 16th, 2012 4:15 pm

    With the very rare (if even that) except of a defective beacon, the battery life on all beacons is amazingly long. At least one model has a very pessimistic battery meter, but it will still keep performing as long as other models. And assertions that a particular beacon goes through batteries quickly aren’t at all helpful unless they specify just how many hours of touring goes through whatever % of displayed battery power. More thoughts on this at: http://www.americanavalancheassociation.org/tar/TAR28_4_LoRes.pdf (see p. 7).

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