Pieps Freeride Avalanche Beacon – Review

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 26, 2013      
Pieps Freeride diminutive size is attractive, but limited functionality may be an issue.

Pieps Freeride diminutive size is attractive, but limited functionality may be an issue. At 242 grams the unit is stupid light, around 120 grams (about 4 ounces, 122 grams lighter than some transceivers on the market.)

In our ever opinionated take here at Wildsnow, most avalanche rescue beacons are too big; too klunky; too heavy. Some brands are downsizing for next season, but antennas need room. Today’s amazingly effective beacons have more than one antenna, so they stay big.

Enter Pieps Freeride. In an attempt to provide a simpler, lower cost avy beacon, Freeride uses a single antenna and one AA battery. While the Freeride does process information using internal software (digital!), it harkens back to the original single antenna avy beacons of yesteryear. Barbaric tranceivers of yore had decent range and were surprisingly fast when used by a highly practiced searcher. But skip practice and you could wander to the North Pole and back trying to find your buried buddy.

Probably due to highly tweaked internal electronics, Freeride has decent signal sensitivity range (said to be less than higher-end units, but it seemed adequate to me during informal testing) and does guide you into a buried beacon by displaying an arrow on the LCD screen.

But for reasons best left for explication by the gnomes of Vienna, a single antenna beacon simply can’t provide the sensitivity or processing speed that allows you to fast-walk or even run in an arrow guided search. Instead, once you’ve got a solid pointer arrow in the Freeride LCD, you still have to slow-walk and stop frequently to let the beacon figure out where to point. What is more, once you’re within a meter or so of the buried victim’s beacon, you must revert to a grid pattern search based on visual and aural cues. Yes, you may do this with more sophisticated beacons as well, but in a somewhat smaller area than that required by the Freeride. (In other words, aggressive use of your probe may be more efficient than fiddling around with narrowing your search area using gridding.)

Bottom line: It will take you longer to find someone with Freeride than with a top-end transceiver.

How about Freeride as buried victim? That’s where this unit makes more sense. I had no trouble fast-walking a search into my Freeride tester while searching with a state-of-art unit. Thus, with its attractive price, simplicity, and easily stowed size, Freeride would perhaps make a good institutional unit that you’d hand out to folks who’d most likely never be doing a beacon search, but rather being found by their guides or other in-charge types of people. Problem is, what if the guides get buried and the clients need to find them? In that case, you’ve saddled the least competent person with the hardest to use beacon. We’ll let the guides figure that one out, but it doesn’t sound like the best situation.

At first glance, I’ll admit I thought “Wow, this would be a cool little thing to carry during low hazard days.” But on second thought, I really don’t ski that many days when avy danger is 100% zero. Instead, even low hazard days can have glitches. For example, you’re out on firm spring snowpack in the morning, planning on being home before the afternoon thaw. They you get delayed and hazard spikes from nothing to scary.

A few conclusions:

1. Since it’s affordable, Freeride would be a good spare beacon for storage in your automobile, cabin, and so forth in the event someone forgets their own unit.

2. Use in certain controlled situations could be reasonable. (e.g., a guide service with several guides and lots of clients who would never use a beacon in search mode.)

3. Ultra lightweight option for skimo racers in situations when carrying a transceiver is a formality and rule requirement, not a safety necessity.

5. But if there exists any chance at all that a person with a Pieps Freeride would have to search for a buried avalanche victim, the possible searcher should be carrying a more sophisticated unit.

5. Perhaps most worrisome is the Freeride could become quite popular with budget shoppers and gift buyers — that could be unfortunate as the units could proliferate like inexpensive socks. (Look what’s in your Christmas stocking Annie, a new beacon from dad!)

Your thoughts, WildSnowers? What will you do when someone shows up with a Freeride to tour with you?

Shop for it, or perhaps not?


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


42 Responses to “Pieps Freeride Avalanche Beacon – Review”

  1. Smokey March 26th, 2013 9:56 am

    Umm…whats the price?

  2. g March 26th, 2013 10:15 am

    Good review. I just picked one up at my local shop for the simple reason that he had everything in the store at 50% off. So i took it home for 100.00, thinking just what you mention, that it would be good to have for a friend that comes to town, or even for one of my small children when we are out on our friendly hill, [where he doesn’t really need it anyway, but can use to practice, etc.]

    I have not had a chance to play with it, but will be interested in confirming what you think.

  3. Stephen hawkins March 26th, 2013 10:21 am

    I own a lot of transceivers including 2 freeride units, They may not have the longest range or be as easy to use as say the S1+ but they aint bad. 10 mins of practice is enough to get someone up to the same level as somebody with an old F1 or similar and they are easy to learn

    They are also probably a lot better than someone with a dodgy DSP Pieps that only works when there is a Z in the month

    Being small and light folks are likely to carry them everyday, including on piste as well and the price means there is no excuse not to carry one

    In out group that we took out to St Anton earlier this year, All 10 found the target with a freeride in a reasonable time. The same couldn’t be said for a few using the Pulse (to much going on) or the DSP (as normal doing its own thing tracking 2 at once)

    The freerides weakness is with multiples as it only tracks one and has no masking and that you need to stay calm and move slowly

    As normal the most successful and preferred unit was the S1 and S1+ followed by most of the other 3 antennae units

  4. Bigsnowtrucker March 26th, 2013 10:24 am

    It’s like you were given the choice to test drive any model of Ford, and you still picked the Escort.

    When will you review the new 3-antenna DSP Sport? What’s the cost on that? $275? That’s what I want to read about.

  5. Dane March 26th, 2013 10:28 am

    I agree with you, this is a beacon that’s small, light, and affordable that requires a little more practice to use effectively. As a ski guide in Shasta I’ll often hand this one out to guests who show up without a beacon. It zips into a front pant pocket and is hardly noticeable compared to larger beacons. Admittedly, the thought of being buried and having an unpracticed guest use the Pieps Freeride to locate me is a bit nerve-wracking. Usually I’m using a BCA Tracker 2 and when I practice with the Freeride it takes me about 30 more seconds to complete a transceiver search and the “pin point” is never as accurate. With the Pieps Freeride good probing technique is essential and patients is a vertue. Oh, and careful with the on/off switch, the battery is under there. No big deal, but the first time I used the freeride the battery popped out when I attempted to turn it on. Total user error there, 😳

  6. Carl March 26th, 2013 10:31 am

    If I had a backup beacon like this, I would likely lend out my easy to use beacon to my friend and keep this one for myself as a more experienced rescuer. That said it doesn’t sound a whole lot cheaper than a BCA tracker 1/2 which is super easy to use if you are buried and waiting that few dollars will be well spent.

  7. Lou Dawson March 26th, 2013 10:33 am
  8. palic March 26th, 2013 10:33 am

    I fully agree with all five points in the conclusions. Just to add, as this is one antenna unit, the first detection of the signal is strongly influenced by the orientation of buried avalanche transceiver. It is more than enough for ideal parallel position of search and buried transceivers antennas, but for other orientation of buried transceiver it drops significantly. See our measurements with the first generation of Pieps Freeride in 2008 – table here: http://palic.ho-vsetin.com/skialp/prvni-testovani-noveho-lavinoveho-vyhledavace-pieps-freeride, resp. http://palic.ho-vsetin.com/images/270.jpg (distances are in meters).

  9. Lou Dawson March 26th, 2013 10:47 am

    All, what’s interesting to me is that we’ve had a zillon euro and dollar brain trust coming up with amazing three-antenna beacons with every whiz-bang multiple burial feature known to man and goddess, and here we have something simple and cheap that’s apparently pretty acceptable. In my opinion, proof that even the fancy dance beacons should be smaller and don’t need all the gee gaws. Beacon design for the most part seems to be a competition of geeks to see who can design and sell the most complicated, heavy and expensive unit. Perhaps they’ll notice the Freeride when they see all you guys carrying it around (grin) and buying it instead of their rocket science space units. As for me, it’ll probably stay in my truck as a spare — but I wouldn’t mind something a bit smaller and lighter than what I usually carry. Perhaps a compromise is in order. Lou

  10. phil March 26th, 2013 10:50 am

    Lou what is your beacon of use this season?

  11. Lou Dawson March 26th, 2013 11:05 am

    Phil, that’s a secret (grin). Actually, my job is to test stuff so though I tend to grab a Tracker since they always seem simpler, I also use various Pieps units and Ortovox, and have some Arvas here as well for eval. I find none to be particularly superior or inferior. As long as I can pick up a signal and fast-walk in to a fine search, I’m happy. I find some of the hair splitting over these things to be rather comical, quite frankly. It’s like comparing boot dryers or something.

    On the other hand, if you’re a pro who’s out all the time with large groups, or simply someone who will really use certain features, I can honestly see how one might pick one unit over another. For example, I know one individual who really likes and uses the frequency checking feature of Pieps DSP. Others could find the GPS etc features of the Pieps Vector to be of use. And so on.


  12. Michael Silitch March 26th, 2013 11:07 am

    I have owned three Pieps Freerides for over 4 years. We use them exclusively for ski mo racing. The break fairly easily, as in just stop functioning. The first two lasted about 2 years before blankig out. The latest one I bought last month had a defect in that it turned off if the on/off knob just got bumped a mm. They say they’ll replace it, but I haven’t had time yet. The others were fixed or replaced after they stopped functioning. I still like them but you have to monitor them carefully.

  13. phil March 26th, 2013 11:18 am

    Thanks for the reply Lou my pieps is getting old and I will probably replace it during the summer sales periods when there are discounts galore,

  14. Alex Kerney March 26th, 2013 11:54 am

    What Carl said.

    I’d probably also switch my Pulse into Basic mode.

  15. Sedgesprite March 26th, 2013 12:29 pm

    Seems like a good idea for industrial (mining, hydro, power) or urban rescue scenarios, (bad zoning), where you need a lot of beacons, have more organized and well trained searchers (hopefully with more effective units..in reserve). An inexpensive bit of insurance for those traveling in vehicles under avalanche paths.

  16. David Buswel March 26th, 2013 12:36 pm

    Picked up this beacon when Bridger Bowl started selling them with season passes, as a spare beacon for buddies. With a little practice it does the job. The press three times mode switch isnt as intuitive as the slider on a dsp, My major complaint is how easy the unit turns it self on while pack away, and come back to a dead battery, (1 AA is pretty easy to find). I pull the battery out now when i store it.

  17. Steve R March 26th, 2013 3:21 pm

    I own two beacons, one of them is a Pieps Freeride.

    I definitely wouldn’t be happy lending out my Freeride for someone else to use, but I’m completely happy with the idea of carrying it myself, even when I’m skiing with my girlfriend.

    When I search I fast walk five double paces, find the flux line, fast walk five more double paces and so on. When I get closer to the beacon I’m looking for I switch to fast walking three double paces between each search for the flux line. I carry on doing this until I’m close enough to do a grid search.

    With practice this technique can be almost as quick as using a multi antanae beacon.

  18. Maki March 26th, 2013 4:48 pm

    I think that’s the first time ever I hear someone speaking positively about this beacon. It’s got the worst of both worlds (digital short range and hard to use analog). The digital on a single antenna adds nothing, it’s there to fool novices into thinking this is “modern”. From the text it looks like it has an indicator arrow, but it’s fixed, not directional. It’s ok for inbounds or skimo races where you can count on external rescue and you are not really expected to do a search but other than that it sucks… I think experts may fail to see the limits just because they can work around them thanks to their experience.

    A more critical review:

    That said, yes, beacons -including this one- are too large and annoying under garments. They should be splitted in a simple small rugged transmitting unit to keep in a pant pocket and a searching one in the backpack paired via bluetooth, so that when you turn on the search unit the transmitter is automagically turned off. And if a secondary avalanche hits and you lose the search unit the transmitter is immediately turned on.

  19. Phil Miller March 26th, 2013 5:16 pm

    I think the most appropriate use would be in skiing in bounds at larger ski resorts especially in new snow with changing weather conditions. Chance of avalanche is small, but if one happens, the ski patrol will be all over it with their expertise and fast searching beacons. They just need a signal. Freeride does that. And it’s smaller and more comfortable than the big guns. (I think)

    It’s also a good beacon for practicing with. If you can find a freeride with your tracker / tracker2 quckly, you’re ready to go. Why buy two trackers so you have one to practice with? And the single antennae is something you should understand in case you run across a situation where someone is buried with one. (It doesn’t have to be one of your group. It could be anybody. Maybe a dog! )

  20. Stephen hawkins March 26th, 2013 5:24 pm

    Maki, you obviously haven’t used one, they are not that bad

    Its not a direction arrow its a signal strength indicator. You stop, rotate slowly till its at its peak and then move forward a few places and repeat. the distance is more to guide you that you are moving towards, rather than away. The whole unit is the direction arrow when the signal strength bar is maxed. it even works in 3 dimensions as tilting it can get stronger signal if the flux line is not horizontal

    Basically its doing exactly what an old F1 or old audible analogue unit used to do but without the faff of a volume control. The beeps do get louder and more frequent as you get closer and you follow the flux line in a curve, and yes with a single antennae it doesn’t handle spikes so you either have to learn how to deal with them or probe a slightly larger area than you would with a 3 pole digital

    Nobody criticises the old analogue units, but they moan about this which is surprising as its directly comparable, but with graphics and digital sound to make it a lot easier, its also MUCH smaller, lighter and cheaper. But like the old units it still has the caveat of “Must Practice”.

    Strange though that if I turned up with this people would mutter, but if I tuned up with an M2 or old Patroller/X1 nobody would say a thing. I own all 3, I know which one I prefer and that I could teach someone to use effectively the fastest

  21. Stephen hawkins March 26th, 2013 5:39 pm

    The Freeride is VERY small compared to others, its not much bigger than a pack of ciggies, and therefore much more comfortable to carry. Unfortunately Pieps sell it with the same harness as for all their units which is HUGE as it needs to carry a DSP, so everyone just puts them in a zipped up inside pocket

    But confused by Phil’s comments on about having to learn about finding a single aerial transmitter as ALL units only transmit on one Aerial (That’s part of the 457mhz transceiver spec). Its only some Ortovox units that chose which of the aerials that is so as to give the better signal but its still only one aerial

  22. Nick March 26th, 2013 5:48 pm

    What do you mean nobody criticizes the old analogue units? See http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/gear/obsolete for just one example.

  23. Phil Miller March 26th, 2013 8:52 pm


    Thanks for the correction! I was under the impression that multiple aerial beacons transmitted on them, and that flux line patterns were at right angles to improve the ability to locate. Guess I’ve been mislead.

    But you never know when you are going to come across a situation where someone is buried with an old F1 or worse. Using this, or an older unit as your search target – FOR PRACTICE – still makes sense.

  24. Bar Barrique March 26th, 2013 9:09 pm

    We are in the market for new beacons, I agree with Lou that they probably should be smaller, and, lighter, however giving up functionality in favour of lightness is not an option. The older single antenna beacons are less intuitive, and, require regular practice in order to use them effectively.
    Back in the day when these beacons were the standard, many people using these older single antenna beacons did not know how to use them effectively (despite the rumour, that you could trust grey haired folks using these beacons).
    Newer multi antenna beacons are accurate enough that you can start digging without having to waste time probing, and, use the beacon in the hole as you are digging for extra precision.

  25. Dan Ovadya March 26th, 2013 10:05 pm

    I upgraded to the Freeride from a 457.

    Huge improvement and way easier to search than 457.

    Light weight and small size makes me take it even on stable days in the Sierra.

    Fits right in a mid-layer chest pocket. For me, it’s a great beacon with a little practice. Battery life is just fine in these warmish conditions.

    I have no problem whatsoever honing in within 0.3m. I’m just as fast as friends with a tracker.

    As Lou said too, I have no need for all the extra techno features they keep adding on. I’ll never use them.

  26. RandoSwede March 26th, 2013 11:42 pm

    Trailhead gear check.

    “Whoa.. I see you have a Pieps Freeride, bro. Looks cool. Which is way important. Pretty light, too I guess. (Note.. the fat skis weigh 9lbs + but who is counting?). Well, if something happens and you will be searching for ME, why don’t you wear my beacon today… brand X, triple antenna, easy to use, just turn to search, follow the arrows… heck, nobody really practices practices anyway. Have YOU really practiced this year? I mean without follwing those boot tracks?”

    “Oh and you have a plastic shovel and those easy to assemble after you remove the frozen baskets type probe poles?. Well, I tell you what, I will take those today because If you are searching for ME, I want YOU to have a dedicated probe that is FAST to assemble and the shovel will not break. That is kinda important. Cool? Sweet. Glad I am covered.”

    “But…. ”

    “That’s ok, dude.. I will be looking for your as best I can. Promise.”

    Freeride = Body Recovery Device. As stated above, the Patrol will find you. Eventually.

  27. Jernej March 27th, 2013 1:22 am

    Or then you could just buy an Ortovox Zoom for exactly the same reasons (but with 3 antennas).

  28. Stephen hawkins March 27th, 2013 2:14 am

    I love the usual paranoia over plastic shovels. There are good and bad shovels in both plastic and aluminium. The only systematic test of shovels I’ve ever seen had alloy ones breaking often in what would appear to be normal conditions. And in 35 years of skiing I’ve only seen one shovel fold and it was metal

    From an engineering point of view Lexan is stronger than 6061 and can be moulded into more sophisticated shapes.

    There is a reason nobody makes garden shovels out of plastic or aluminium. All snow shovels are a compromise of strength over weight. You can make shovels that WILL NOT break in any material, but would you want to carry them

    Personally I have a 20 year old lexan shovel that’s seen hundreds of uses. rescue, snow caves, jumps, clearing the path, sledging, digging the garden etc and still going strong. Its a lot lighter than the current lightest metal one. Oh and its guaranteed unbreakable by the manufacturer for life

    Anyway if the snow is that solid or icy I don’t use a shovel, I get out my snow saw that just happens to fit on the handle for my shovel. Right tool for the job eh? so how many of you carry ice saws? Cutting blocks is far faster than shovelling as well

    And how many of you have tried the new scoop blade devices? they are surprisingly more effective in soft/medium snow than a shovel and work far better than you could imagine in hard snow and are much easier to use in confined spaces so you can dig a smaller hole to rescue someone (hence faster). Also great for sitting/kneeling on in a snow cave and act as a back protector in your rucksack. I carry one as well as my shovel

    I wont comment on probes shorter than 2m or built into poles as I think all here will have the same views

    Oh and I’ll take someone with a Freeride who has practiced any day as a partner over someone with an all singing and dancing toy that’s read the manual and thinks it will do all the work for him and he “just has to follow the arrows”. To hand that to someone who has never seen it before is idiotic, far better to spend even 10 minutes with a quick practice on their own units

    My experience with freeride owners (I ski with 4 of them) is they know the limitations of their device and practice to make up for it. During those practices they always find the target and only a short while after someone with a 3 antennae. Its the shorter range that delays them, the initial search takes longer. but once they have a signal they are not much slower than a state of the art unit. 2 of our group know about spikes and will deal with them the other 2 just accept they may have to probe more.

    Don’t be so blind to new ideas and devices or follow the accepted mantra (All chant “Aluminium good, plastic bad”), why not use the units and make an informed decision, you may be pleasantly surprised (or disappointed)

  29. Col March 27th, 2013 5:32 am

    Thanks Nick, you beat me to it with the avalanche.ca link. +1

    These units are not good for everyday recreational skiing. Try buying one in Canada. Hard to find for a reason.

    “Works just like an analog” is hardly something to crow about in the day of 3 antenna digital for $200.

  30. John Dough March 27th, 2013 7:38 am

    I think that Peips should be more forthcoming in their labeling of this product . People who are just getting into BC travel, and are looking for the cheapest route since they already dropped a lot of money on other equipment, might be lured into thinking that this beacon is sufficient, and not realize that it takes a substantial amount of practice before becoming proficient.

    Only slightly related topic, but I was wondering why every beacon on the market doesn’t also come with a Recco reflector built in. Seems like it would be a useful recover feature to ad some redundancy. Just an Idea, I’ve heard that Recco also picks up on electronics so maybe that’s why.

    Another question. I know that traditionally people carry their beacon in it’s holster. I’m sure that this is preferred for many reasons, but recently some partners and I have started carrying ours in the pockets of our bibs. These are zipper closed pockets, which are securely attached inside the pants. It makes for a much more comfortable and easily accessible beacon in case of a search, and I don’t have to undo multiple layers to get to it. Question is Lou, or anyone else, do you see any problems with this method of carry?

  31. Lou Dawson March 27th, 2013 8:38 am

    John, it’s common for people to carry their beacons in various pockets. I don’t see any problem. Essentially, an avalanche doesn’t discriminate on which part of your body it will beat on, so the chances of your beacon getting broken are just as good if it’s in a thigh pocket, a chest pocket, or a pouch. I would however caution that carrying beacon in a pocket under thin fabric that could get torn might be unwise. Most bib fabric is fairly beefy and I’d think would be fine in that respect, especially since a jacket of some sort is usually layered over. Thigh and hip pockets are a different story. I carry my beacon in hip pocket but I’m not that excited about doing so.

    Practically speaking, the beacon damage issue is real. Another reason why smaller/lighter beacons may be problematic is they are likely not hardened against impact damage. I’d assume a BCA Tracker, for example, is quite a bit more damage resistant than a Freeride. Pretty obvious just from the look and feel of the units. Question is, is the extra 4 ounces of the Tracker worth the damage resistance as well as saved seconds or minutes on a search? To me, the answer would generally be YES, I’d carry the better beacon — in my pocket.

  32. Lou Dawson March 27th, 2013 8:44 am

    All, BTW, I’ve been excoriated here for sometimes not carrying a probe and instead depending on accuracy of 3-antenna beacon and a ski pole for a probe. In my practice sessions, I’ve found this system allows finds of such similar speed to using dedicated probe that the choice is not a big deal — especially when viewed as percentage of shoveling time. But not carrying a dedicated probe is a very politically incorrect thing. What is strange to me is most of the folks accepting use of slower beacon (Freeride) would probably be against carrying a faster beacon but no probe. What, really, is the practical difference between Freeride/probe and better-beacon/no-probe ? Are we looking at a bit of irrational prejudice here?

  33. Larry G March 27th, 2013 9:10 am

    I teach avalanche safety and when asked what the best beacon is, my standard response is the one you KNOW how to use. I know of many backcountry travelers that buy the beacon, practice a couple of times finding a buddies buried beacon, call it good and never practice again. Using your beacon of choice should be as natural as walking. You should practice to the point where you always know exactly what YOUR beacon is telling you. In an emergency situation, human beings are incapable of original thought and will defer to what has been ingrained through practice. So, regardless of what beacon you decide to carry, make sure you are expert with it. BTW…this also applies to your other avalanche gear (you would be surprised at how many people don’t even know how to deploy the probe they’re carrying). There…off of soap box.

  34. Lou Dawson March 27th, 2013 9:42 am

    Larry, I know you mean well but eventually the “one you Know how to use” statement becomes a sort of tautology. It’s always true in one sense, but when viewed in the greater picture of best practices, it would be better stated as “a modern 3-antenna beacon that you Know how to use.” Or better, “a modern 3-antenna beacon that has batteries, and you know how to use” (grin). Lou

    Seriously, with the vast variety of beacons now available it might be time to start avoiding the quips and getting into some specifics with avalanche safety students in terms of which brand and model of beacon might be best for them.

    For example, perhaps an individual goes for long journeys away from civilization. Perhaps their main requirement is battery life. Still another individual who carries a satphone might spend a great deal of time with GPS, and be a GIS expert. In their case, perhaps a Pieps Vector would suit them as they’d be able to quickly provide GPS coords for a rescue. Another person might be intimidated by all sorts of LCD icons and options, and be involved in a culture where multiple burials would be unusual to never. In their case, perhaps something that is powerful yet simple, such as Tracker.

    At some point in avalanche education, it would seem appropriate to help folks make these informed choices if they’re shopping.


  35. SR March 27th, 2013 9:52 am

    In terms of guide standards, pants pocket beacon carry is fine. Some pants now have elastic fasteners similar to wetsuit or surftrunk car-key.”keepers” for this reason. Jackets are a different story.

    As for probes, they are a bit of a religious thing. So yes, I think there is irrational prejudice at work. Lousy cardio and lousy shoveling technique is in practical terms going to be a bigger limitation on time-to-find in many cases.

  36. Lou Dawson March 27th, 2013 10:32 am

    SR, indeed, I’ll admit that quibbling about beacons is a red herring in the discussion. Digging time is the elephant in the room with all this. I’m actually kind of glad that the airbag discussions have taken some of the wind out of the endless beacon verbiage. The advent of the simpler beacons over the past few years also proves a point. As I’d said earlier, the geeks got too much control, time to dial it back to the real world. Lou

  37. john nobil March 27th, 2013 9:53 pm

    Speaking of beacons to lend to a newbie friend, that would be the ortovox s1+ without a doubt. Flip it open and it guides you in. This level of simplicity is critical when the average person is under the stress of a difficult situation. why does the industry not emphasize the importance of saving 1-5 minutes of search time, and instead sell inferior equipment. compared to standard beacons, which require a sweeping search across potentially hundreds of yards of terrain, the s1 saves a lot of back and forth traversing across the most difficult snow conditions imaginable: avy debris and/or scoured slope. yes, it’s worth spending the money when someone’s life is on the line! i can’t think of many situations in life where spending a few more bills buys you minutes of time within the critical 15minute search window. Prices would come way down if this was the standard issue, but no, inexpensive beacons are tragically accepted in the b.c. ski world, sort of like not wearing seat belts was in the 70’s.
    As for the shoveling side of the equation, build mtn bike trail in the fall/winter. Makes you strong as an ox.

  38. Dan Ovadya March 28th, 2013 12:09 am

    How many of these folks criticizing the Freeride have tried it? Just as fast as a tracker 2 for me plus light, simple, easy, no harness needed. In fact, my 7 year old got within a minute of my times in three tries.

    I’ll take an experienced searcher + Freeride anyday over a googan with the latest greatest.

    I guess I’m saying that the searcher matters way more than the beacon. I can see this shift in people saying these new beacons are so good that there’s no needto practice. Wrong emphasis.

  39. Larry G March 28th, 2013 8:55 am

    Lou…good recommendations. I do tend to recommend Tracker just because of ease of use, but I like your discussion on matching the beacon to your expected needs. Thanks for your insight and all your dedication to informing backcountry travelers.

  40. Lou Dawson March 28th, 2013 9:23 am

    Dan, but what about the _best_ beacon with the _best_ searcher? We’re talking about saving lives here. Shouldn’t we be optimizing everything to that purpose? How about if I showed up with my old Pieps analog and proved I could find a beacon with it, in only a few minutes more than with a BCA Tracker, would that be acceptable to you?

    Freeride sure brings up some interesting questions… but mostly, it demonstrates a need for a smaller, simpler, cheaper product.


  41. Dan Ovadya March 28th, 2013 1:35 pm

    Sure, that’s the best practice.

    BTW: I have a Tracker 2 for multiples. Good beacon. Agreed.

    We should be optimizing everything but the biggest limitation is still the user, not the beacon.

    Seriously, I see people in the Sierra who don;t even know how to turn their Tracker 2 on or into search mode!

    I’m skeptical that the new technology will save more lives because so many times it’s a human being either making the right or wrong choice.

    Freeride is not the problem. People are the problem.

  42. Tero February 14th, 2014 3:27 am

    Good review and made me confident to buy This product to my 8 years old son who would not be able to search or rescue me in any condition. For sure he is not a freerider yet but time to time he wants to try skiing just a bit outside of pist. And there this product can be just ok. For me and my wife we have a proper beacons to find and dig him out in case of small avy.

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  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

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