+5 5 votes

Time to Upgrade?

We received an email with the following thought and felt it was a valid one:

"We buy new skis and bindings, yet I see people who are reluctant to upgrade their avalanche transceiver. Every winter I go on several week long ski trips. On the first day we do a beacon search. Consistently, I see people with single antenna beacons stumbling around, taking a long time to find the buried beacons. And yes, I have seen people who have practiced frequently, do a fast, effective search. But most people do not practice a lot. Find out why the CAA lists single antenna beacons as "OBSOLETE GEAR" at https://admin.alpineclubofcanada.ca/link/to/3798-58654-168-02 . (From the Rocky Mountain Section "Spindrift", article by RMS Chair, Marg Rees)"


Upgrade your beacon for any of these reasons:

  • 2.257 kHZ: This old frequency that was replaced by 457 kHz in the1980s. If you still have one of these museum pieces, donate it.
  • Dual Frequency: from the 1980s transition era, these beacons transmit and receive on both 457 and 2.257, but they don't do either well. Get a modern beacon
  • Earphones: if your beacon requires you to stick something in your ear, get one with a speaker.
  • No visual display: if you don't have modern visuals, it's time for a new beacon.
  • Single antenna beacons. I know lots of people are hesitant to upgrade because they're "faster with their old beacon", they're waiting "for the dust to settle" as new technologies standardize, or they just "don't get out much". Here's why you should upgrade now .
  • Three antennae digital beacons generally won't find single antenna (analog) beacons as well as digital units. That means if two people are buried close together, the one with the digital beacon is likely to be isolated first. Bad news if it's you under the snow wearing the old analog beacon!
  • In a multi-burial scenario, signal overlap can be a significantly bigger issue with old beacons in the equation. Modern digital beacons are slowed down and again, it's you under the snow who bears the cost.
  • Old analog beacons send out fewer but longer signals. That means in any given period of time there is less information available to process. This slows down a digital beacon. Consequently search speed slows down. Again, it's you who pays the piper.
  • False maximum and complex deep burial problems aren't an issue with modern three antenna beacons except for extreme cases (where burial depth is greater than probe length).
  • Multiple burial problems are generally easier to solve with modern three antennae digital beacons. And it's only going to get easier as fewer old units remain in service.
  • Even in simple scenarios search times are faster with digital units - once you've practiced and learned how to use it effectively.
  • Most manufacturers require preventative maintenance every three years to ensure they function properly. This is important because frequency drift, a broken antenna, or a myriad of other problems can affect performance causing the beacon to fail. Your old beacon should be costing you money. (It could be more economical to just get a new beacon - and learn how to use it effectively!)

If finances are truly a concern, we recommend you consider buying a used
  three antenna digital beacon (which can be function tested at select retail outlets for a nominal fee) over a new single antennae beacon.


This picture has an Ortovox F1 and it, which is a single-antenna transceiver. The F1 is still one of the more popular avalanche transceivers out there (largely because it's a $100 cheaper than most 3-antenna beacons) but is this a case of being pennywise life foolish?