[Update: Starting in Fall 2010 the D3 was replaced by the Patroller Digital, which is essentially the D3 but with the simpler all-strap harness of the previous Patroller/X1 (and venerable F1).]
Ortovox D3 is essentially its sibling Patroller/X1 but with no analog mode, and the addition of an indicator light if you have a multiple burial situation. The advantage of having an analog mode is it helps pick up signal from a greater distance when you begin a search. While greater range for initial signal acquisition sounds important and may well be for body recovery after large avalanches, opinions vary as to how much it matters for saving lives, especially compared to how well (quickly) you execute your overall search and extricate the victim. Thus, D3 is a viable choice, as are other beacons with relatively shorter ranges (such as BCA Tracker.)
(Another difference between D3 and Patroller is the D3 has a nicely executed pouch-tether harness system, while the Patroller only has a webbing harness.)
Interface and Controls
Switch to Transmit is as failsafe as you can get. Simply insert and then turn a plug from the one of the harness straps into the beacon housing. In other words, when you put the harness on you turn the beacon on.
How to tell at a glance the beacon is transmitting? Easy: if the harness strap system is completely secured and you see a red indicator light, you are transmitting.
Switch to Search mode by simultaneously releasing a switch and turning a knob (realistically a two-handed maneuver). Revert to Transmit by releasing (or even just quickly flicking) that same switch.
The search interface is simple: A two-digit LED numerical display along with three LED directional indicators, with an additonal indicator light for multiple burial.
How It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Pinpointing
Initial signal acquisition is via a combination of digitized acoustics, one of three 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, 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).
How It Works: Multiple Burials
Other than the indicator light, 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 > Secondary Search Phase > Pinpointing
Initial signal acquisition range is on the short side for the D3, yet still typical for all-digital multiple-antenna beacons when used in digital mode.
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.
The D3’s third antenna eliminates momentary glitches within a 2.0-meter distance readout, but can suffer from such glitches just barely outside this range, which can actually be less than an actual two-meter distance depending on orientation. (Much further out, glitches from signal spikes and nulls do not occur with any beacon.) 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 beyond the multiple-burial indicator light (i.e., to confirm that you are indeed facing a multiple-burial search), how well the D3 works in a multiple-burial search depends entirely on your skills.
Overall: To What Kind of Person Does This Beacon Appeal?
The D3 appeals to a user who wants a relatively simple and straightforward directional beacon, and doesn’t want to bother with any special multiple-burial features (besides the indicator light) or other complications. As such, it is the most direct competitor to the Tracker DTS (aside from the hard-to-find ARVA Evolution+).
Overall: What Thoughts Go Through My Mind If a Partner Has This Beacon?
“My partner needs to sensibly interpret the directional indicators jumping between straight ahead and off to one side.”
“My partner had better be well-practiced and skilled for a multiple-burial scenario.”
(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.)