Ortovox already offers by far the most comprehensive line of avalanche beacons:
– F1 (firmly enrolled in Old School), Patroller (formerly X1, with automated switchover from single antenna mode to dual-antenna directional mode).
– D3 (keep-it-simple multiple-antenna with directional indicators)
– S1 (max technology).
– And until this season, Ortovox also offered the M2 (single antenna and hence no directional indicators, but digital processing for signal strength and flux line interpretation).
For the 2010-11 season, the Patroller and D3 will both be discontinued, replaced by the Digital Patroller, which will essentially be the D3 but with the all-strap harness systems of the Patroller and F1 (instead of the D3’s tethered pouch system).
The big news though is the new 3+ beacon. Like the competition from the Pieps DSP, Barryvox Pulse, ARVA 3 Axes, ARVA Link (if it ever comes on the U.S. market), and Ortovox’s own S1, the 3+ will offer signal separation technology (for marking/masking/flagging to allow a focus on just one beacon at a time in a multiple-burial scenario), a third antenna (to eliminate nulls and spikes in the final search phase), and upgradable firmware.
The 3+ will differ from the S1 with a more traditional housing shape (unlike the S1’s flip-phone clamshell design), which will also be rubberized. The LCD screen will feature seven directional indicators. All of this will somehow be powered by a single AA battery. (The Pieps Freeride also uses a single AA battery, but that beacon has a lot less going on than compared to the 3+.)
The 3+ will be the third beacon model to offer a unique feature to try to enhance the survival of its user, as opposed to the more typical goal of enhancing the effectiveness of its user as a searcher.
Barryvox Pulse was first with survival tech, utilizing a secondary frequency to transmit data indicative of a victim who is still alive. But this feature works only for a searcher also using a Pulse beacon (or possibly the new ARVA Link). The most recent firmware of the Pieps DSP periodically shifts the transmit pattern in an attempt to avoid signal overlap with an adjacent victim. But this can cause the mark/mask on a DSP to become undone if the pattern shift is misinterpreted as yet another victim coming onto the scene.
So what does the 3+ beacon do that’s so unique? First, as background, a typical multiple antenna beacon has two relatively large antennas for directional interpretation when searching, along with a very small third antenna for resolving vertical issues (which become important during the final search phase). However, all beacons transmit on a single antenna. Until now.
If the Ortovox 3+ senses that the user has come to a rest, and hence might be buried (functions that both the S1 and Pulse currently perform), the 3+ will also assess, based on the vertical orientation of the beacon, which of the two main antennas will allow searchers in the horizontal plane to maximum their initial acquisition range of the 3+’s signal. In other words, the 3+ will switch transmit antennas in an attempt to maximize how far away searchers will first pick up the 3+ victim’s signal.
Now for the really surprising part (as if the preceding paragraph weren’t enough already): the retail will be only $349, far less than the comparable competition.
Ortovox will unveil the 3+ at the Winter Outdoor Retailer Show January 21-24 in Salt Lake City. I’ll have a one-week demo of the 3+ in February and report back in more detail then. The 3+ is scheduled to arrive at retail markets on September of this year.
As always, the beacon market continues innovating at a furious pace. Keep your eyes on this page for more!
(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.)