Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Beacon Preview

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 11, 2010      

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!

Shop for Ortovox here.

(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.)


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13 Responses to “Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Beacon Preview”

  1. Aaron January 11th, 2010 6:26 pm

    It’s brilliant, shifting the transmitting antenna. I fully expect a firmware update to let the S1 do this as well.

  2. Colin in CA January 11th, 2010 8:12 pm

    That price is a most-welcome surprise. It would be fantastic to get a three-antenna transceiver on the market with a retail of ~$350. It’d probably buy it. 🙂

  3. WanaBe January 11th, 2010 10:47 pm

    I gotta say, I am not a fan at all of the beacons offering any sort of data about which victim is alive or not. There simply isn’t a reliable enough system to measure HR or what have you. I fear it will result in improper triage of avalanche victims. Get to whomever is the closest, probe, dig like hell, move on.

  4. Lou January 12th, 2010 12:15 am

    What WanaBe said. And figure if you’re ever in a multiple burial situation, you’re going to be digging up dead people. Don’t let it happen.

  5. Stano January 12th, 2010 3:27 pm

    Great article Jonathan.

    I met ARVA representative last month and I am meeting an Ortovox rep this week. Then I will attempt to either compare or at least describe the two technologies in a post on my site.

    And BTW, Arva beacons are coming to North America and very soon 😉

  6. Bryan Johnson January 27th, 2010 10:59 pm

    I’m excited to see how this beacon works! Could be an impressive improvement in beacon tech.

    I have the Pulse beacon and agree that doing triage based on a computer isn’t a good idea. However it is one more piece of information that may at least be considered when you are the only one doing a multiple search.

    Be smart!

  7. Jonathan Shefftz March 19th, 2010 11:43 am

    Had a demo today – very impressive.
    I’ll have my unit into Monday, and writing up my WildSnow.com review over the weekend, so if anyone has any specific questions about the 3+, just let me know, and I’ll try to incorporate the answers into my review.

  8. John Minier April 2nd, 2010 2:31 pm

    Super stoked! Glad to hear that there is finally a beacon that re-orients its transmitting signal to more closely align with a searching beacon. I teach a lot of AIARE 1 students companion rescue, and by far the hardest concepts that they struggle with are flux lines and long axis orientation. it would be great to have a beacon that takes some of the guesswork out of it.

    However, on another note, I would also be really interested in practicing with the 3+ in many different multiple and close proximity burial scenarios to see if it has attempted to resolve the classic downfalls of all 3 antenna signal separating beacons (ghosting, marking/flagging problems, SLOW processing, freezing up). the technology is great in concept, but still flawed in it’s practical application. If the 3+ 100% resolves these issue, than for $350.00 we might have the holy grail of beacon technology. However, I am still skeptical. Until I get my hands on one, I think that the simplicity and reliability of a Tracker 2 like beacon with this new transmitting signal re-orientation would be the bees knees.

    But like Lou and Wanabe said, we shouldn’t be getting into multiples in the first place. And indeed, a tiny percentage of backcountry skiers actually do. But if it does happen, you will more than likely be digging out dead bodies – I don’t care what kind of fancy, space-age beacon you have. What we really need is fancy, space-age shovels.

  9. Jonathan Shefftz September 1st, 2010 2:49 pm

    Just realized that this preview doesn’t include a link to the subsequent review of a pre-production sample:

  10. Lara September 13th, 2012 8:53 pm

    @John Minier or anyone else:

    Do you have or can refer me to any more info re “freezing-up” of either the ortovox 3+ or any other 3-antenna transceiver?

    Used an ortovox 3+ in a practice session last night and was very disturbed by instances of “freezing-up” in search mode. This happened in 3 out of about a dozen searches, once at 19m, once at 13 m and once in pinpoint mode.

    single burial of either an ortovox F1 or an ortovox M2 (both of which passed the 3+’s partner-check with no errors). Was in a park and the transceiver was on the surface (ie not buried) so the distances were pretty true.

    When the 3+ was working, it worked well, but on these 3 occasions it suddenly stopped beeping (no audio at all) and the display froze with the numbers as given above; in the 13 m case I walked 20 m away from the beacon and the display did not change at all. In 2 cases the beacon recovered after what felt like minutes (but was probably 30-50s), in the other case I switched to transmit and back to search and it was working again.

    In all searches (incl the ones with no fails as above) a lot of the time in the “second” phase there was no arrow or the arrow kept jumping around but the numbers behaved as expected and it was possible to search based just on the numbers and the audio so I assumed this was just the way it worked but after reading reviews maybe it should have done better with the arrow display?

    This was in a park so I can’t rule out EM interference, but no obvious source of interference so whilst a performance degradation is perhaps to be expected I wouldn’t expect it to completely freeze (if only the audio had kept working as per an analogue beacon that would have been fine but the audio stopping was what most concerned me).

    Any info as to why this happened? how to prevent it happening? is this normal for a 3-antennae beacon? normal for an ortovox 3+ beacon?

    Do these beacons have some sort of automatic (and manual also would be better but I couldn’t see any manual over-ride) switch over to a straight analogue audio search if the beacon’s digital searching fails in this sort of way?

    Thanks for any info/advice,

  11. esteban October 30th, 2013 5:28 am

    lara, your question is so important.
    ¿ any answers? please someone give an opinión.

  12. Lou Dawson October 30th, 2013 7:54 am

    Lara, first, always make sure your beacon has latest upgrades/firmware etc. Beyond that, yes, some of the fancy beacons have had the behavior you describe. I know of none of the current models at this time that “freeze” in any significant way, but some I’ve tested do “stutter” in that it’ll do a brief freeze. The gurus tell me that you have to get in the habit of pausing your search movement when this happens, and let the beacon re-calculate or whatever it’s doing. I don’t have any numbers on this in terms of how long it should take, but it should be a matter of seconds, not minutes. If your beacon is really freezing, in that you have to reset it or wait for lengthy periods, I’d say it was defective or needs some sort of upgrade.

    And yes, EMI is a known cause of beacon stuttering and weirdness. Test in a place with less EMI. But also test in a place with a lot of EMI just to get an idea of how much a factor EMI might be. Good place for EMI testing is just a neighborhood sidewalks near powerlines and multiple houses, many with wireless routers and stuff like that.


  13. esteban November 3rd, 2013 3:05 am

    thank you very much for your time Lou. From Spain.

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