Pieps Avy Electronics — It’s not just beacons anymore

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 11, 2010      

In 2003, Pieps introduced its DSP avalanche beacon, the first beacon to offer either a third antenna (to eliminate nulls and spikes in the final search phase) or marking/masking/flagging (to allow a focus on just one beacon at a time in a multiple-burial scenario). Now on its sixth major firmware iteration, Pieps has improved the DSP significantly over the years.

Mark Renson w iProbe

Mark Renson, from the Mad River Glen and Mt Washington ski patrols, finds a “victim” with a Pieps iProbe during the September 2008 National Ski Patrol refresher at Northfield, MA.

Pieps has also recently introduced three other innovative avalanche-related electronics items. First up was the iProbe. As an NSP and AIARE avalanche instructor, whenever students ask how they’ll know when a probe strike hits the buried victim (as opposed to the ground, or some brush), the standard response is supposed to be, “you’ll know!” But with the iProbe, your probe will tell you. How so? Appearing as just another thick-diameter carbon fiber probe with a curiously enlarged handle, the iProbe contains a small search-only beacon in its tip. The iProbe will start beeping within about two meters of the victim and then emit a continuous beep within about half a meter.

But wait, there’s more! If the victim has a Pieps DSP or Freeride, the iProbe can mask that victim’s signal for all searchers. By contrast, a signal separation beacon – like the Pieps DSP, Ortovox S1,or Barryvox Pulse — will mask any victim’s signal, but only for that searcher’s beacon. Any other searchers in a close-proximity multiple burial will still have to contend with the potential confusion of that first victim’s signal while searching for any other burial(s). The iProbe though can suppress the DSP’s or Freeride’s transmission. (This makes the standard practice of leaving the probe in place after a successful strike even more important – think about it…)

Available originally last season (i.e., Fall 2008) only in the 220cm model, a 260cm model is now also available. Note that the effective lengths of these probes are significantly longer than their mechanical lengths, since the iProbe can “strike” a victim without physical contact. The weight penalty relative to a regular carbon fiber probe is just a few ounces.

Overall, my personal impressions of the iProbe matched up pretty well with the more in-depth review published here last month.

The Pieps Checker.

The Pieps Checker is small and easy to use even for little Micayla Shefftz.

Next up is the Pieps Checker, new for Fall 2009. This is a miniature receive-only beacon is designed for trailhead checks. Other companies are now making beacon checkers designed for backcountry access gates, ski patrol shacks, and other fixed locations. The Checker though is designed to be slipped around your neck with its provided lanyard, then easily packed away. The advantage over using your own beacon for a trailhead check is that the Checker has a shortened range, so that a larger group can be given the okay without having to spread out everyone. (The Ortovox S1 and Barryvox Pulse have this same feature.) Relative to its weight, size, and cost — all pretty much close to negligible – this is a very useful device. Overall, I think anything that makes you more aware of avy safety at the trailhead is a good thing, and if it’s light, small, and provides a check on your rescue devices, so much the better.

Pieps 30 Plus

Pieps 30 Plus

And finally, also new for Fall 2009 is the Pieps 30 Plus inclinometer/thermometer. Personally, I’ve previously preferred to use the clinometer function on my compass, since I can sight down a slope. But if you like to lay your ski pole down on a slope, a separate clinometer is a useful device. Previously for our ski patrol avalanche course loaner fleet, we used the Life-Link Slope Meter, whose dial seemed designed to crack upon its very first outing. Recently we acquired a batch of sturdier slope meters from Backcountry Access. Now Pieps has designed a digital clinometer (along with thermometer) that attaches to a ski pole. Once again, relative to its weight (about an ounce) and size (basically nothing when secured to the ski pole), this is a very useful device.

I’ve found that the clinometer adjusts very easily and securely to any diameter ski pole. The power button has a sensible auto-off feature. Angle measurements are accurate and easy to read. Oh, and it also displays the temperature — a press of the single well-sealed button switched between C and F. Overall, although I still plan to sight down major slopes with my compass’s clinometer, but “calibrating” my own brain on a regular basis the Pieps clinometer is super-convenient. Also perfect for snowpit work, both for measuring the angle of the pit and also taking air temperature readings. (No more attempting to balance my snowpit thermometer on top of a ski pole grip and always having it fall down in the snow?) Overall, is this a must-have item? Hardly, but it can help in your slope studying and snowpit assessment, plus I believe that any “fun” safety-related gadgets will help you be more aware of safety.

October 11 Update:

And two new Pieps avy items for this coming 2011-12 season:

— The ~$100 Pieps Backup is a transmit-only beacon, and that furthermore transmits only in the absence of any movement. The concept is that if you’re searching and are then buried in a secondary slide, when your Pieps beacon still in search mode, the Pieps Backup will then kick in. (Note that some competitors essentially incorporate this kind of motion-dependent revert-to-send mode into their beacons.)

— The $150 Pieps TX600 is an off-frequency transmit-only beacon, intended for dogs and gear (e.g., tents, gear stashes). The TX600 can be located only with a Pieps DSP beacon running the very latest 8.2 firmware.

Shop for Pieps 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.)


13 Responses to “Pieps Avy Electronics — It’s not just beacons anymore”

  1. Mike March 11th, 2010 12:58 pm

    I was out a couple weeks ago with a guy who was using an iprobe in search practice, and broke it without any apparent (to me) abuse on his part. It was probably just a fluke, but it was still fairly concerning. I’ll be sticking with metal probes for a while longer.

  2. gonzoskijohnny March 11th, 2010 2:15 pm

    Initially the pieps probe sounds like a great idea, but on further reflection I’d
    i think it could cause some HUGE issues.
    The probe finder ‘search mode” is certainly a big thumbs up, able to indicate that you are within a meter of the vicitm, it can save a lot time and futher probing around trying to get an actual body hit at such a close locate, and get the shovelers involved NOW!
    But if I’m burried in anything other than a simple small single burrial incident, I don’t want ANYONE turning off my beacon until my bod is out and someone can turn it off.:shocked:
    The confusion of finding all the burials in a multiple scenario has pretty much been solved with the pulse and other modern masking beacons.
    But the occasional goof up during the hysteria of a big event and someones’ probe turning off your beacan so no one can find you anymore prior to extraction seems to be a real liability in my book.
    Can the probe be programmed for just recieving with disabling?

  3. Mark W March 11th, 2010 6:28 pm

    Cool stuff. I like the clinometer/thermometer for the ski pole.

  4. Tomky March 12th, 2010 1:28 am

    No info about Pieps Vector with GPS, Li-Ion, 80m range?

  5. Rob March 12th, 2010 7:59 pm

    Here’s a neat little inclometer for your ski pole that’s free (or at least REALLY cheap) used to make spot checks. Use a more accurate one in critical situations.


  6. Lou March 12th, 2010 9:25 pm

    Nice Rob, thanks for sharing that!

  7. Jonathan Shefftz March 13th, 2010 7:53 pm

    Whoops, important clarification on my part. (I would edit it, but we like to preserve the integrity of the thread here, and I don’t want to make it look like the comments are out of whack with my text.)
    I wrote:
    “The iProbe though can suppress the DSP’s or Freeride’s transmission. (This makes the standard practice of leaving the probe in place after a successful strike even more important – think about it…)”
    — This is misleading on my part (and apparently led to GSJ’s concerns). The suppression is only with the iProbe is in close proximity. Remove the iProbe, and the victim’s beacon will now start transmitting again for any searcher to find.
    As for GSJ’s other point:
    “Can the probe be programmed for just receiving with disabling?”
    — The temporary disabling is not automatic but instead a separate action on behalf of the searcher. So an iProbe user could always deploy the probe using the search function but never the mark/mask function.

    Onto more electronics: Pieps Vector, yes, some preliminary specs are available, but best to hold off on speculating until we have a sample to test.

  8. Maki March 14th, 2010 4:40 pm

    I like the iProbe idea. However I’m always wary about proprietary solutions, especially when safatey equipment is concerned. Is this stuff going to be some sort of a standard?

  9. Jonathan Shefftz March 15th, 2010 7:22 am

    Unfortunately the current beacon spec is still designed around the limited capabilities of the old analog-processing beacons. Amazing how much digital processing is now being performed by various models of a transmission that was never designed with that purpose in mind.
    If a new spec was developed from scratch, I suspect that beacon searching would far far easier, especially for multis.
    We’re already seeing a potential parallel transmission come into development: currently the Barryvox Pulse uses its W-Link only for ancillary info, and not searching, but the ARVA Link promises (although has yet to deliver) the utilization of that additional frequency for signal separation.
    To be continued for sure!

  10. Maki March 16th, 2010 2:10 pm

    Yes, that was actually my point. I think we are seeing again the situation when each country had its own frequency (ok, now it’s better, but you get the idea…).
    I just don’t understand why these people don’t sit around a table to set new common advanced specs rather than trying to impose proprietary solutions without even having the force to do that. They know they’ll eventually have to evolve together, so why not doing it now?

    This gear could be so much better, it makes me sick to see industries slowing down the developement for commercial reasons. Even more so when we are talking about things that can save human lifes.

  11. Jonathan Shefftz March 16th, 2010 2:26 pm

    Maki, those are all good points & questions — I wish I knew the answer and/or solution!
    I’m meeting Friday to demo a new beacon with the U.S. head of a beacon company, so I’ll raise that issue with him then.

  12. Jonathan October 2nd, 2011 11:38 am

    I’ll incorporated this into the end of the review, but also repeat here the two new Pieps avy items for this coming 2011-12 season:
    — The ~$100 Pieps Backup is a transmit-only beacon, and that furthermore transmits only in the absence of any movement. The concept is that if you’re searching and are then buried in a secondary slide, when your Pieps beacon still in search mode, the Pieps Backup will then kick in. (Note that some competitors essentially incorporate this kind of motion-dependent revert-to-send mode into their beacons.)
    — The $150 Pieps TX600 is an off-frequency transmit-only beacon, intended for dogs and gear (e.g., tents, gear stashes). The TX600 can be located only with a Pieps DSP beacon running the very latest 8.2 firmware.

  13. Maki October 2nd, 2011 12:53 pm

    I think the Backup is a better idea than a “motion-dependent revert-to-send mode”. If you are caught in a secondary slide while performing a search your beacon is very likely to get lost unless attached with a strong leash. Actually that mode can even be counterproductive since other rescuers would be searching your lost beacon instead of you.

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