Austrian Night Mission & Ortovox Talk

Post by blogger | January 17, 2012      
At Weinbergerhaus, after a quick 700 meter night workout.

At Weinbergerhaus, after a quick 700 meter night workout. Click to enlarge.

Kufstein, Austria. The skiers around here don’t mess around with their fitness. Cardio nearly every day is the rule, and it doesn’t have to be in the backcountry. Uphilling the slackcountry on skis is incredibly popular, with many people heading out in the evening lit by headlamp. What seems to help the situation is having numerous places where you can ski up to a restaurant, hang out for a moderately priced meal, then glide down to your car and head home. Weinbergerhaus near Kufstein, Austria is one of hundreds such places. I headed up there the other night with Franz Kroel from Ortovox, expecting a few beers and some beacon tech talk. Franz most certainly delivered in both departments.

Weinbergerhaus parking lot.

For this jaunt you park at resort slopes with a lift that's closed most of the season. Enough people head up here to keep three resturants in business, with the top and most authentic alpine option being Weinbergerhaus. Franz arrived with a pair of vintage red Dynafit Tourlite boots, he tours quite a bit, so I marveled at how he'd not worn out the toe fittings. Light on his feet.

Winbergerhaus backcountry skiing.

Winbergerhaus backcountry skiing.

Avalanche beacons were the topic during this mission, and during subsequent backcountry powder the next day. Franz had a previous career as a top guide. He’s also known as a pioneer climber with routes to his credit that are still unrepeated due to his ethic of using only natural protection. If you’re an Austrian guide and climber, that means your DNA is infused with ski alpinism. Thus, perfect guy to be working with Ortovox since 1991 on product development and marketing.

Probably the most interesting part of our conversation regarded the emergency return to transmit feature that nearly all beacons now have. Several years ago when this feature was furiously debated. Franz was vehemently against it, as was I. Reason being that before the days of beacon sophistication (dealing with multiple signals) an extra transmitting beacon could dangerously delay a search due to signal confusion. Since than, several things occurred that changed opinion and proved that emergency transmit return is an acceptable if not necessary feature.

First, as automatic return-to-transmit permeated the market, so did better functions for dealing with multiple signals. That alone could have made the issue moot. But a few years ago a Swiss rescue team on a mission was nearly wiped out (I recall it was seven dead) because they had the optional transmit return disabled on their avalanche transceivers when they were buried in a slide. Franz said analysis indicates at least half of them would have been recovered alive if their beacons had been transmitting. This event alone made the point that return-to-transmit was important if not essential — and should be left enabled. Adding to all that, now the automatic transmit is coupled with the movement detector in beacons such as certain Ortovox and Barryvox models, and they don’t return to transmit unless sitting still (as on a buried person).

So, Franz was wrong. I was wrong. Automatic return to transmit is a good feature that now works quite well due to all the technological advances in avy transceivers.

The issue of automatic-transmit-return made for an hour or two of talk, then we moved on to things like how small can they make beacons? Yeah, in the case of Ortovox they figured out how to use just one AA battery in their 3+ model, thus reducing form factor. Could that be a lithium battery? Tough to do, according to Franz, mainly because the battery strength meter gets thrown off and you’ll have no idea how much battery you have left.

The evening concluded with a nice run headlamp illuminated glide down the powdery soft stuff that’s been falling on the mountains around Kufstein for the last few weeks. A pleasure after the white ice of Colorado.

Austrian cake pastry.

Seems like every time I think I've run out of candidates for Guess that Pastry, another comes along. This is a basic keuken made from something 'orignal,' perhaps some of you experts can get me more up to speed on the details.


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14 Responses to “Austrian Night Mission & Ortovox Talk”

  1. xav January 17th, 2012 9:41 am

    Tech talk aside, looks like a sort of buckwheat torte 🙂 Though I can’t recall the original name.

  2. Pascal January 17th, 2012 2:49 pm

    Are there cherries in the cake? Looks like a Schoko-Kirsch-Kuchen.

  3. Lou January 17th, 2012 5:16 pm

    In German it’s buchweizen Kuchen I just checked with an expert chef I’ve gotten to know, who travels a bunch over there that translates as buckwheat cake. He said the Roman army conquered the world while fed on Buckwheat, and they’re still eating it over there — obviously. And now I feel like a Roman soldier. Oh, and yeah, I think there were cherries in there!

  4. Lou January 17th, 2012 5:22 pm

    And I should add that you guys always amaze me with how you can figure out these cakes and pastries by just looking at my meager photos. Good job xay! Now, back to tech talk?

  5. JQ January 17th, 2012 6:43 pm

    I guess I’ll go with the revert to transmit argument. There is a reasonable chance that the searcher hit by an avalanche will be separated from his / her transceiver, it will be motionless, but not necessarily near its owner.

  6. Lou January 17th, 2012 7:29 pm

    In that case, all is lost, revert to transmit or not…

  7. Carl Pelletier January 17th, 2012 8:05 pm

    All is not necessarily lost Lou….

    Pieps introduced a backup transmitter this year. It’s slowly making it’s way into the United States. It’s a small device (about the size of a smashed walnut). You wear it on your body…in a zipper pocket near your base layer….it remains dormant for the duration of your tour.

    If the back up transmitter senses that there is no longer a beacon nearby (50 cm) in SEND mode (whether the user has turned the beacon into SEARCH or the beacon gets knocked out of their hand)….then the backup transmitter goes on “heightened alert”, but still remains dormant. It remains dormant because the backup transmitter needs to be completely still for 15 seconds to start emitting a 457kHz signal.

    So essentially there are two checks that need to take place before the back up transmitter starts emitting a 457kHz signal:

    #1. No beacon in SEND mode in a close proximity (50cm)


    #2. No motion for 15 seconds

    This is Carl Pelletier from Liberty Mountain and we distribute Pieps here in the United States. Lou, stop by the booth and I’ll show you the backup transmitter and the new dog transmitter. If you give me a heads up and I’ll have a pastry that you may, or may not be able to identify.

  8. Rolf January 18th, 2012 4:29 am

    Two thoughts on the auto revert issue:

    – in the Alps there are no victims on record from secondary avalanches concerning members of the touringparty! So, much of the original arguments from Franz and Lou still stand. For touringparty’s secondary avalanches just don’t seem to be an issue. This opposed to professional rescue party’s that spend much longer time at the scene and arrive much later. An autorevert system is therefore only wise in combination with a motion detectionsystem (the Pieps back-up is an option too, but you have to carry an extra device).

    – as we (and without doubt any organisation teaching avalanche rescue) see in our courses: non professionals ALWAYS mess up with auto revert systems that do nit have a motion detection or ‘Back-up’. It is just unsafe and and on top of that unnecessary in view of the above.

  9. Carl Pelletier January 18th, 2012 8:26 am
  10. Rolf January 18th, 2012 9:32 am

    Interesting Carl! We mostly agree. One of the things with the Pieps Backup Transmitter is however that you will only recover it with a tranceiver that doesn’t mind an offset of 600 Hz. So it is of little use if you travel in a group where people use transceivers that can not (and many modern transceiver will indeed have a very hard time!). And, I agree with most of the arguments, but to be honest: I don’t see people ‘laying their transceiver aside’ during a rescue. Because of the elastic band it is some hassle, and: I never saw it happen in our traininggroups (non-professional companion rescuers). But maybe ‘laying aside’ is not the most important argument….

  11. Carl Pelletier January 18th, 2012 11:45 am


    Agreed, laying aside might not be the most viable argument, but the strength rating of that elastic band (something like 2 kilograms) in the event of a secondary event dies come to mind.

    Also, the Pieps Back-Up transmitter is transmitting at the European standard of 457kHz; whereas, the TX600 (dog / equipment) transmitter was originally planned to emit a signal 600 Hz above 457, but the actual model transmits 456 kHz and you need a Pieps DSP and Pieps Vector to find the TX600.

    Does this make sense?

  12. Rolf January 18th, 2012 12:13 pm

    As I/you said: laying aside might not be your most viable argument.

    “Also, the Pieps Back-Up transmitter is transmitting at the European standard of 457kHz”
    is not what it says in the information behind the link you provided….

  13. Jonathan Shefftz January 19th, 2012 9:15 am

    That pdf file is indeed confusing — I thought the Back-Up was supposed to be able to be found by any beacon, not just a beacon capable of finding the doggie/gear transmitter on the alternate frequency?

  14. Frank Carus February 2nd, 2012 8:51 am

    When I bought the Pulse 5 years ago, I thought four and eight minutes were an awfully long time to be buried before my beacon reverted to send again so I chose the off option…I thought I was turning off the delay. A friend pointed out my mistake, fortunately, and clarified that I had turned auto-revert off entirely!

    The motion sensing features of the modern beacons should be leveraged to revert to transmit 15-30 seconds after motion is stopped. Why a 4 minute or worse, 8 minutes seems like a reasonable delay when the time stops AFTER all motion has ceased is beyond me. 4 minutes is a long time to wait under the snow while rescuers spot probe for you. Add 5 or more minutes for searchers to locate you and you’re likely unconscious, brain damaged or dead.

    I think manufacturers responded to poorly to revert during search complaints. The Tracker’s auto-revert feature must be turned ON every time the beacon is booted up. The Pulse has advanced menu’s but only 2 options for auto-revert times, with the third being useless since the motion feature is always activated.

    Auto-revert during search, like avalanche hazard in general, is a problem that should be solved through educating users and giving consumers sensible options not by eliminating potentially annoying, but important, safety features. My hope is that Barryvox and others will recognize this hazard and release a firmware or software update to make searching and caring for buried victims safer.

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