(Please bear in mind that the following “first look” is for a pre-production tradeshow avalanche transceiver “beacon.” Our policy here at Wildsnow.com, after being burned numerous times, is to only do in-depth reviews of beacons that are in production. Nonetheless, nothing wrong with hitting the highlights of the sweet little unit Ortovox is planning to release this fall.)
There’s a new avy beacon coming that promises something truly different for backcountry skiers and others dodging the white beast. Ortovox’ 3+ (production planned or this fall) has the ability to automatically switch which antenna is transmitting, depending on which of the two largest antennas is most horizontally oriented. Result, since beacon searches are done with the beacon held horizontally, is that the two beacons will “talk” to each other as loudly as possible since their antennas will always have the same orientation. Thus helping improve the performance of every beacon on the market. But read on, there is more.
The 3+ does not use the grid display of the Ortovox S1, so finding multiple victims is not as graphically intuitive, but the same set of multiple sensors that allow the S1 to mark found victims so reliably is retained. An LCD display uses the now classic mix of distance numbers and five direction arrows to guide you to the strongest signal first. Up to three victims can be easily marked. (I know there is a trick for doing more than three, but you’ll have to wait until we can vet a production unit before we’ll comment on this rarely needed feature.)
All these are great, but my favorite feature for backcountry skiing is the harness. Most beacons on the market come with a nice pouch for the beacon and some webbing to strap the unit to your torso. At the end of the day though you take the beacon off, wrap the straps around the pouch and toss it in your pack for next time. Next time you take it out, what inevitably happens? You get to untangle the straps before putting it on; a minor inconvenience to be sure, but an inconvenience nonetheless. The pouch for Ortovox 3+ comes with a pocket that you fold inside out to hold the pouch and straps in a smart, self contained sack.
Things like multiple victim recognition, even switching the transmit antenna are very cool rescue features but ones that frankly I hope I never need. However, the smaller form factor, storage pouch. and single AA battery power consumption of the 3+ are things I can appreciate every time I use a beacon. The projected price will be a competitive $349.00 MSRP, available Fall 2010.
Craig Dostie is well known in the backcountry skiing world as founder and publisher of Couloir Magazine (1990-2007), the publication that led the way in making it legal for mainstream ski magazines to cover subjects other than resort lodging and how-to-snowplow tips. Along the way he coined and promoted the phrase “earn your turns.”