The new for 2011-12 ARVA Evo 3+ is a three-antenna beacon with basic marking/masking capability for multiple burials. Value is impressive: at $279 MSRP the Evo3+ is at least $70 less than any other marking/masking beacon on the market. This pricing seems to be part of a trend for increasing price competition among more basic yet nevertheless innovative models at less stratospheric price points, coming after the previous feature-laden competition with very high price points. This is a trend we at WildSnow encourage, as we see that many beacon users are more about acquiring something basic and affordable so long as they’re certain it matches up well with their preferences.
Overall, if you want a relatively basic beacon in terms of features and price, yet desire a modicum of marking/masking capability for multiple burials, then this could very well be the beacon for you.
Interface and Controls
To switch the Evo3+ beacon to Transmit, insert the small object (that comes tethered to the beacon) into the corner of the housing. Even though this switch seems to be mechanical, operating it really just presses a magnet near a corner of the beacon’s housing — in fact, you can turn on the beacon using a typical refrigerator magnet. (When the beacon is stowed away after skiing — either in your pack on the drive home or back in your gear closet — you must therefore be careful to wrap up the strap system in a manner that keeps the little insertion point away from that particular corner of the beacon, otherwise it’ll be sitting there transmitting till the batteries die.) Also note that all ARVA beacons take four AAA batteries, as opposed to the more typical configuration of three AAA batteries (or AA, whether one or two).
How to tell at a glance that the beacon is transmitting? If all the straps are connected to each other and to the beacon, then it should be on, i.e., you can’t wear the all-strap system (i.e., no pouch) securely without the beacon being on. For an indicator that the beacon really is transmitting though, if the beacon face is up against your chest (as it should be — even though the user manual displays otherwise), then you can’t see any confirmation, i.e., the only indication that the beacon is transmitting is a flashing LCD center arrow, which is not visible with the beacon face up against your chest (or in the dark).
To switch to Search, pull out the little knob at the top of the beacon. (This is easily a one-handed operation, as that little circular piece of the housing showing through the knob is *not* something you depress in order to pull out the knob -– which initially confused me.) To revert to Transmit, push the knob back in.
The search interface has an LCD distance readout and five LCD directional indicators, but no other buttons.
How It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Final Search Phase
Initial signal acquisition is via a combination of digitized sound, one of five directional indicators, and distance readout. The directional indicators disappear at 2.0 meters. (Distance shown is not necessarily the actual “crow flies” distance to the victim, as is the case with all beacons.) The distance readout goes down to a minimum of 0.0 meter.
How It Works: Multiple Burials
The Evo3+ displays a symbol for multiple burials. The user can mark/mask a found beacon (but only one single found at a time) by pushing in then (quickly — for reasons that should be obvious!) pulling out that same knob. The beacon will then focus on the next-strongest signal.
How Well It Works: Initial Signal Acquisition > Secondary Search Phase > Final Search Phase
The initial signal acquisition range is on the short side, yet still typical for many all-digital multiple-antenna beacons. The combination of digitized sound, five directional indicators, and distance readout is all very straightforward.
In the final search phase, the Evo3+ has a third antenna that eliminates all nulls and spikes. And the box size (i.e., the area over which the distance indicators are unable to differentiate the remaining distance to the target) is very small (essentially zero).
How Well It Works: Multiple Burials
The multiple-burial indicator symbol lets you know that any bouncing around in the distance and direction is because another person is buried. The mark/mask feature is more limited than other signal separation beacons, but in a way this is an advantage. How so? Think of the Evo3+ as more of a brain-engaged approach, as opposed to the “leave the thinking to us” approach of other sophisticated beacons. So with less going on in the beacon’s thinking, there is less to go wrong, although more is demanded from the human being’s thinking.
Specifically, Evo3+ doesn’t quickly lock onto the strongest signal, so first off you have to decide which signal to choose. Once you’re close to the beacon you choose, the bouncing around essentially disappears.
The “blocking” terminology employed by ARVA is actually quite apt, since when the top switch is quickly pulled up and then pressed back in, the Evo3+ then *temporarily* ignores the first signal, and allows any other signals to become prominent again. The Evo3+ reliably led me to all three beacons in my test layout. However, once the third beacon was marked/masked, the Evo3+ had by then lost its mark/mask for the first beacon, which was as expected given the user manual’s depiction of that function as temporary. (By contrast, competing models will indicate three marked/masked beacons at this stage, with the exception that no signal separation beacon will work perfectly in all scenarios.)
Combined with the lack of a beacon count (as opposed to just a multiple-burial symbol), my conclusion is that the Evo3+ will work reliably when the number of victims is known, but will be more confusing if the number of victims is unknown. That said, with a far more simple user interface and fewer controls, the Evo3+ is potentially less confusing for a single burial — and the vast majority of avalanche burials are singles — let’s keep that in mind as the industry does their multiple-burial feature wars.
Furthermore, the Evo3+ performs so well in my “5-25/5-20 Walk-the-Line Test” (see my test notes for details) that it doesn’t even seem like a test at all. Specifically, this search configuration examines whether a searching beacon is so fixated on the first close-by signal that it subsequently has trouble (to various extents) finding the next, further-away signal. But not the Evo3+, which after marking the first signal almost immediately displays the direction and distance to the next, further-away signal. Well done.
Overall: To What Kind of Person Does This Beacon Appeal?
If you’re potentially attracted to the simpler beacons on the market, but want more than just an indicator for the presence of a multiple burial, then the Evo 3+’s combination of basic user interface with a simplified marking/masking may be exactly what you seek. And at only $279 as of press time, the Evo3+’s functionality is quite the bargain.
Overall: What Thoughts Go Through My Mind If a Partner Has This Beacon
“My partner has a somewhat shorter initial acquisition range, but once locked in, the signal should be very easy to follow, with a minimum of distractions on the user interface…the blocking feature will greatly help my partner at solving a close-proximity multiple burial, especially if only two victims are buried…my partner saved so much money on this beacon that post-avalanche beverages are being paid for by my partner!”
(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.)