German Alpine Club picks Ortovox S1 Avy Beacon

Post by blogger | December 11, 2008      
Avalanche Beacons

Avalanche Beacons

Editor’s note: We’re in the process of editing our series of avalanche beacon reviews. Meanwhile, this news came over the transom from Craig Dostie. I found it interesting because I’m of the opinion that fancy beacons are not that important, but many people and organizations beg to differ, this apparently being one of them. So, consider this as one in our series of beacon reviews, but look for Jonathan’s contributions to be published here in just a few days. For reference to all our beacon reviews, please see our Avalanche Beacon Reviews Introduction

The German Alpine Club (DAV) has decided to replace all existing avalanche transceivers in their fleet of equipment available to Summit Club members. The new beacon of choice? Ortovox S1. An agreement was signed by DAV with Ortovox the first week of November, 2008.

S1 showing its excellent pinpoint function.

S1 showing its excellent pinpoint function.

The DAV (Deutscher Alpen Verien) Summit Club is the largest mountaineering club in the world. Its school of mountaineering is equally supreme. This agreement is a huge endorsement that will undoubtedly influence customer choices in the next year or two, just as it helped propel the Backcountry Access Tracker DTS to unrivaled sales in Europe through 2006 (and which is still an incredibly reliable and functional beacon, we might add).

The change reflects the growing view in Europe that three antennas and associated processing power is the minimum acceptable level of technology that should be purchased.

According to DAV, S1 won out over competitors for the following reasons:
1. Shows position and distance of the signals on the screen.
2. Does a quick and reliable signal analysis.
3. Has a remarkable marking function.
4. Upgradeable software.
5. Provides a quick daily or weekly Check-function with the ORTOVOX UP-BOX.

My take:
This agreement represents a very strong endorsement of the reigning European opinion that avalanche transceivers should have at least three antennas. More, it shows Ortovox has raised the bar with S1’s signal separation technology and screen indicating the positions of up to three victims simultaneously.

Many criteria for choosing the S1 are available from competitor’s transceivers. But showing relative position is an additional feature unique to the S1, and the unit’s marking function is hands down the most reliable. Barryvox’s Pulse uses timing to identify signals, Pieps DPS relies predominantly on amplitude, but the S1 uses all these plus the shape of the pulse, the pulse rate, pulse width and 3D spatial orientation of the flux line. This allows the S1 to truly separate and identify each signal, with what I feel are superior results.

The DAV specified software version 2.0. (v1.2.269). This distinction is important, since the latest version improves several things, like the intuitiveness of the display, and accuracy. But there remains room for improvement.

In the realm of fast, reliable signal analysis, particularly when there are more than two victims, the competition is arguably more reliable, or maybe a better word would be more deliberate. By comparison, the S1 stutters. By that I mean that the display updates rapidly, but successive displays show icons that jiggle about. I call it stuttering because it is like listening to a person with a stutter. You kind of know what they’re trying to say, but it takes a few tries before they get it out right.

Like getting used to minor stuttering, I wouldn’t even pay this phenomenon much attention except for the propensity (rarely with 2, regularly with 3 victims) for the S1 to suddenly indicate you need to turn around, or halt.

Whenever this happened during my tests I kept moving forward because first and foremost I hadn’t bothered to read the manual and didn’t know that display meant back up. But this is most certainly a glitch that could cause confusion during an already adrenaline charged real-world search.

All that said, I’m inclined agree with the common wisdom that the probability you or I will actually have to deal with more than three (or even two) buried victims at the same time is slight. So I’m probably making a mountain out of a molehill.

Thus, for most of the rescue cases you might ever deal with the S1 simply kicks butt. It excels at marking found victims, indicating relative position, and pin-pointing. Where the promise exceeds performance, Ortovox is doubtless working out a solution. And that’s a snap to implement since the unit’s software is upgradable.

If you’ve been sitting on the fence about this one it is time to compare for yourself. Get in on an S1 demo session or test at the retailer. I think you’ll be impressed.

Shop for Ortovox S1 avalanche rescue beacon.

(Guest blogger Craig Dostie is well known in the backcountry skiing world as founder and publisher of Couloir Magazine, the publication that led the way in making it legal for mainstream ski magazines to cover subjects other than resort ratings and how-to-snowplow tips. Along the way he coined and promoted the phrase “earn your turns,” and still does not own a snowmobile, though he has been seen riding a ski lift.)


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17 Responses to “German Alpine Club picks Ortovox S1 Avy Beacon”

  1. Chet Roe December 11th, 2008 1:50 pm

    Isn’t Ortovox a German company? is it any surprise the German club picked a German avi beacon? Objective pick? maybe yes,maybe?…… I own an Ortovox (but not this groovey one)

  2. RobinB December 11th, 2008 2:20 pm

    Interesting article.

    I am starting to think about what I will replace my Barryvox with in the next year or two, and the high tech beacons are definetly on my radar.

    Recently at a Backcountry Avalanche Workshop, hosted by the CAA, one of the presenters came out strongly in faour of the three antenna technology as well. He stated that it was his opinion, not the CAA stance, but I suspect it is the start of a trend…

    BTW, the DAV link at the beginning is broken…

  3. Dostie December 11th, 2008 3:03 pm

    re: Does a German club have an inherent bias for German products? Perhaps, but I think there is more going on here. I think part of it comes from DAV’s belief that the capabilities of the Pulse and DSP are already maxed out based on the technology they are built upon. By contrast, the S1 has more room to grow and improve with the additional magnetic sensors. Also, keep in mind the last time the DAV made such a selection/endorsement it was for BCA’s Tracker. At the time it had clearly redefined state of the art with their groundbreaking dual-antenna beacon.

    I also think we’re about to reach a limit in terms of what level of sophistication consumers are willing to pay for. The word is out that improvements in shoveling are the next frontier in avy rescue, which will mean more innovation in education and techniques, not technology.

  4. Njord December 11th, 2008 6:55 pm

    Just recently got the S-1… intuitive and super easy to use. Makes child’s play out of multiple victim searches. It’s almost as easy as a video game. Worth every penny if the proverbial feces hits the fan. Would never use any other type of beacon again.

    Of course, I could be partial due to 50% of my grandparents being born in Germany… my closet nepotism/prejudice/racism is showing in my beacon selection. (or just maybe the S1 is the best thing since sliced bread, canned beer, and spreadable cheezewhiz)


  5. Lou December 11th, 2008 9:25 pm

    It does sound pretty good. I usually don’t do much beacon testing (figure with the amount of skiing I do it’s better to spend time acing one unit), but I’ll have to give this one a whirl.

  6. Jon Miller December 11th, 2008 10:38 pm

    I help teach avy courses and have tried to keep up with the latest avy technology. With that said, i had been useing my old F-1 until last year. After trying a students new 3 antenna beacon, I was sold. Personally I have a Pulse (I just like the way it works for me). Any of the top line 3 antenna beacons, the Pulse, S-1, Pieps DSP are FAR superior to the old style beacons. They are worth the significant price increase because they are faster, more accurate, easier to use, and can handle multiple signals far better than older beacons. Im telling you, once you try one, you won’t go back.

  7. Mark Worley December 11th, 2008 11:21 pm

    Perhaps the three antennae BCA Tracker 2 will be available soon. I’m likely not the only one waiting in anticipation.

  8. Carl December 12th, 2008 1:24 pm

    The Pieps DSP was the highest performing in the DAV’s own test.
    The Pulse and S1 ranked high as well. I therefore doubt they believed either were maxed out.

  9. palic December 12th, 2008 6:16 pm

    Hi Lou, just small mistake in the second paragraph, it is not “DAV (Duetscher Alpen Verien)”, but “DAV (DEUtscher Alpen Verien)”

  10. Lou December 12th, 2008 6:51 pm

    Fixed Palic, thanks so much. Lou

  11. Gerry Haugen December 13th, 2008 2:10 pm

    Based on our initial field testing, I’d rank the S-1 behind the DSP, Pulse and current Tracker as least effective in course searching (after the transmitting signal is first detected). Depending on the transmitting beacon’s antenna orientation, the S-1 will often lead you off to one side or another & then stall out. Continuing to move in the direction you were last going would only put you further out. Obviously in a real avalanche rescue scenario, you’d have avalanche track and deposition clues to help you overcome and reroute your search – but you shouldn’t have to rely on those observations. And that misdirection/stall out phenomena occured with a only a single beacon transmitting. If the S-1 is to be worth it at all, they need to solve this problem. The time lost in the course phase could never be made up in the pinpoint phase. However, the S-1’s pinpoint search behavior is stellar – as is the DSP & Pulse. It’s flagging function and pinpoint accuracy is good. The three antenna beacons solve pinpoint search, flagging and successive multiple beacon pinpointing very efficiently.
    Rangewise, the Tracker and S-1 are comparable. The DSP & Pulse consistently detect the initial signal a full 15-20 m further out. The Tracker, probably because its processor is both fast and less burdened with tasks, is definately the fastest beacon from initial detection to pinpoint phase. It will be interesting to see the new 3 antenna Tracker, and whether they can maintain their course search speed and tighten up the pinpoint phase.

  12. Bryce December 14th, 2008 10:13 am

    With all this chatter about 3 antenna beacons (andrew mclean likes the Pieps DSP, DAV likes the S-1) you can bet BCA’s got somebodies working overtime right now to finish up the Tracker2. Can’t wait.

  13. Lou December 14th, 2008 11:50 am

    A wee bit ‘o competition gets us the goods. Interesting how that works (grin).

  14. Simon December 16th, 2008 2:08 pm

    I’m confused about something- I see lots of “speculation” here, about BCA trying to finish off a Tracker2, but I see one already listed on the MEC website. Have they listed a product before it is actually available?

  15. Lou December 16th, 2008 8:46 pm

    Simon, sometimes online stores do put products up if they think they’ll be available soon. Best thing to do is simply contact BCA and ask what’s going on with availability. Simple as that.

  16. Dostie December 18th, 2008 11:23 am

    Simon: BCA is hoping to deliver a few hundred Tracker 2’s in the latter half of this season. Don’t count on it though.

    G Haugen: Do you know what version of S1 you were experiencing the “misdirection” phenomenon? I’ll be it was v1 (1.2.1xx in the tools menu). My purpose in pointing out this remaining phenomenon was to prod Ortovox into fixing it. I think the screen update speed is a bit too fast when far away, perfect inside of 10 meters. So I agree with you that Ortovox needs to fix this.

    It is worth noting that Pieps published an article at ISSW 2008 about determining a reliable search strip width via field measurements. If you look at the results you see that their results expose the problem of a jittery/stuttering display with the S1. If one responds immediately to the indications of the S1 you can spin in circles. To be fair, based on the time of the report these results had to be based on v1 of the S1 which had a much more pronounced “stutter.” The most recent version is a significant improvement, but does not completely eliminate the problem, especially with more than 2 victims. I did see the problem with one victim, but rarely. With 3, it was common.

    Finally, I’ll repeat. The probability that you’ll need the capabilities of the S1 for more than 2 victims is slim. The response of the S1 to one or two victims is the most telling. In that arena, the S1’s ability to indicate whether the 2nd victim is to the L or R of the first is something that could, with enough rescuers, make a huge difference in saving lives. Kudos to Ortovox for that feature.

  17. Brian January 20th, 2009 4:14 pm

    The BCA Tracker 2 will not be available until Fall 2009 at the earliest (I just called the company headquarters here in Boulder.) Plan your shopping accordingly.

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