[Update: The Patroller was discontinued as of Fall 2010. Note that the new for 2010-11 Patroller Digital is really just a renamed D3 (with the Patroller harness) rather than a variation on the Patroller.]
Ortovox Patroller (formerly the X1) is a cost-effective unit with unique hybrid design that makes automated switchovers from analog to digital.
The unit thus achieves a very long range for initial signal acquisition, this coupled with directional indicators for the latter half of the secondary search phase.
Patroller has no special features for multiple burials. (For a list of our beacon reviews and external resource links, please see our avalanche beacon reviews intro.)
I’m buried, my partner has the Patroller beacon, what am I thinking?
— “My partner will acquire my signal from a long (long) ways away.”
— “My partner had better be well-acquainted with the Patroller’s various switchover points, and able to move quickly in the secondary search with only a distance readout.”
— “My partner needs to sensibly interpret the directional indicators jumping between straight ahead and off to one side.”
— “I think someone in another group got buried as well — my partner had better be well-practiced and skilled for a multiple-burial scenario.”
Interface and Controls:
To switch the beacon to transmit, insert and then turn a plug from the harness into the beacon housing. How to tell at a glance the beacon is transmitting? Easy: if you’re wearing it with the straps secured completely, you’re transmitting.
To switch to Search mode, simultaneously release a switch and turn a knob (realistically a two-handed maneuver). Revert to Transmit by releasing (or even just quickly flicking) that same switch. The search interface is as simple as can be: two-digit LED numerical display and three LED directional indicators.
How It Works:
Initial signal acquisition is by sound (analog) only. Further into the secondary phase, this is combined with a numerical readout for distance (but no directional indicators yet). Even further into the secondary search phase, the sound switches to a digitized tone and the distance readout is combined with one of three directional indicators.
The directional indicators disappear at 2.0 meters (as shown on the distance display, not necessarily as measured by the actual distance to the victim, as is the case with all beacons), at which point the third antenna becomes active (to eliminate spikes and nulls from the concentrated flux lines). The distance readout goes down to a minimum of 0.2 meters (with the same caveat as before).
With no special features for multiple burials, you have to use your “Three Circle” or similar skills or strategies to find a second beacon if the first beacon cannot be turned off immediately.
How Well It Works:
Initial signal acquisition has impressively long range, the equal of any pure-analog single-antenna beacon. However, full digital distance readout and directional indicators do not come on until a very short range, much shorter than any other directional beacon.
Does the above matter? I used to think so, until I observed avalanche course students with the Patroller’s X1 predecessor at my beacon practice stations. To my surprise, students with the X1 seemed just as fast following the distance-only readout into that part of the secondary search phase as students with directional indicators. Why? My hunch is that at such a distance, the directional indicators make only a relatively slight difference as opposed to the rougher directional changes you get from a digital distance/strength readout.
However, in a worst-case alignment, with the Patroller’s directional indicators not coming on until an actual distance of about seven meters, I strongly suspect this would result in longer search times. In other words, the Patroller becomes a directional beacon a bit too late into the secondary search phase for my preferences.
Also, with only three directional indicators, if the readout is bouncing around between, say, left and straight ahead, the user needs to be sensible enough not to become frustrated between going left and then going straight, but rather split the difference to go slightly to the left.
During my testing the third antenna eliminated spikes and nulls within a 2.0-meter distance readout, but I still noticed momentary false readings barely outside this range. Ortovox informed me that starting in Fall 2008, the third antenna comes on long before then and will thus eliminate this. I have not tested the latest iteration of Patroller, but have no reason to doubt Ortovox.
The pinpointing “box size” is large, but I feel that this is unlikely to make much or even any of a difference in pinpointing for an actual burial.
How Well It Works — Multiple Burials:
With no special features, how well the Patroller works in a multiple-burial search depends entirely on the user’s skills.
Overall — To What Kind of Person Does This Beacon Appeal?
The Patroller’s predecessor, the X1, acquired a bad reputation which perhaps explains the change in model designation despite no significant changes in design from the final X1 versions. I feel that this reputation is undeserved (except for the very first year of the X1, which did have very slow digital processing), and instead arose because the Patroller has somewhat of a niche appeal. Plus expectations for its X1 predecessor differed wildly from its actual design.
How so? When the X1 was originally announced as an analog-digital hybrid, expectations were for a variation on the then-popular Barryvox Opto 3000, which allowed manual switchover at any point between traditional analog acoustics with volume control versus full digital distance readout and directional indicators. By contrast, the X1 — and now Patroller — automates this process.
So what is this beacon’s “niche” appeal? If you want a simple user interface, value a long range, and are comfortable with analog-only and then distance-only searching skills for a significant portion of the secondary search phase, yet still want a directional beacon (for a portion of the secondary search phase), then this is a beacon for you — and indeed, probably the only beacon that meets your criteria.
(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.)