Big thanks to Backcountry Access for sponsoring this avalanche education content. Check out the additional plethora of avalanche safety resources on their website.
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.
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.
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.
(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.)