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  1. #1
    Ski Shop Owner & Equipment Specialist - Voted Best Boot fitter in Australia (SIA Australia Awards 2013) Paul Oberin's Avatar
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    Post The Smartest Avalanche Beacon



    With their new avy beacon, the Tracker 2, the crew at Backcountry Access hopes to change the way skiers deal with slides.
    By Heather Hansman

    Bruce “Bruno” McGowan drops a transmitting avalanche beacon on the sidewalk and power walks away from it, staring at the screen of a receiving beacon in his hand, calling out numbers. “Thirteen point five, fourteen point two, fifteen one,” he chants, his eyes never leaving the screen.

    McGowan, president of Backcountry Access, wants people to change how they use avalanche beacons, and he thinks their new model can do it. The Tracker 2, a chunk of black plastic not much bigger than a pack of cards, has been a long time coming. BCA has been slowly tweaking their technology since their original digital beacon, the Tracker DTS, first hit the market in December 1998.

    “Ease of use is our number one priority. We want those things to be as idiot proof as possible,” McGowan says.

    To get there, BCA did some homework. After talking to every known avalanche survivor they could find, they decided the new beacon would do the most good if it could quickly locate a single buried victim. It has a multiple burial mode, which kicks in automatically, but McGowan says its strength lies in locking onto the nearest signal and reading it quickly and precisely. It functions essentially the same way the old Tracker does, but it’s streamlined and less complicated. The lag time between transmit and receive has been cut back to nearly zero, and it can pick up signals from significantly farther away than previous models.

    All the testing and development happens at the BCA office in Boulder, Colorado, which is strewn with a mishmash of gear and technology—boxes of circuit boards sit next to piles of climbing skins and shovel handles. Cages, meshed in copper wire so they look like chicken coops, house equipment to check frequency and range. The copper keeps the beacon’s signals from interfering with one another. Inside one of the cages, tester Johnny Walshe is making sure all the transceivers are precisely tuned to 457 kHz, the universal frequency for beacons.

    Outside, the bike path behind the building is hash-marked every five meters for long range distance testing. McGowan and the rest of the BCA team are fanatical about those distance numbers. They’ve logged lots of time pacing back and forth on the path with test beacons in hand, making sure that every detail is dialed. “We don’t want people skiing with it until it’s ready to go,” he says.

    It turns out, making something simple is really hard. The debut of this newest model has already been pushed back two years. Their ultimate goal was to make the Tracker 2 as simple as possible, even if it meant avoiding sexy extra features like a display screen. The product sample on McGowan’s desk has only one moving part: a pull-tab that sends the beacon into search mode.

    Eventually, they want to make the beacons so intuitive that a skier will only need minimal practice to become an efficient searcher. That way, avalanche education can focus on other skills like shoveling and understanding snowpack and spend less time learning how to use complicated transceivers.

    “That’s our goal,” McGowan says. “To make beacons less of the story, and education and knowledge the focus.”

    After years of research and delay they just might have made it there. The Tracker 2 is slated to hit stores by the end of the year. To find out more, or to read about some of BCA’s research, visit www.backcountryaccess.com

    http://www.paulski.com.au/avalanche-...alanche-beacon

  2. #2
    Boardworld.com.au Owner rider26's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Smartest Avalanche Beacon

    There have been two deaths here in BC in the past week; one was a Whistler Ski Patroller touring with three very experienced travel partners, out past Pemberton in the Duffy Lake area. The other was a paying client of a heli skiing operation based in Revelstoke. In the second situation, they got to him, but not in time (he was fully buried). His chances would have been increased if he was wearing an Avalung. Both were very sad and very unfortunate situations.

    I've heard a lot of good things about the Tracker 2 - it's widely used here in Whistler.

    Be safe everyone. You can't put a price on your life.
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  3. #3
    Ski Shop Owner & Equipment Specialist - Voted Best Boot fitter in Australia (SIA Australia Awards 2013) Paul Oberin's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Smartest Avalanche Beacon

    A lot of people are concerned about taking an Avi pack through an airport, I had it explained to me at the recent Denver trade show how the system works, and it is basically a small cylinder with a screw top lid, this cylinder get filled up with clean breathable compressed air, and when the system is triggered the air cylinder rushes out and fills the airbag, no explosives are involved, the cylinder with out the lid screwed on looks a lot like an Aluminium drink bottle and should appear quite safe to take in you carry on luggage.
    The good thing about using clean compressed air, is the air bag slowly deflates over a few minutes, and if trapped under an avalanche the extra air this provides can keep you alive for a fair bit longer, the two main benefits of an airbag though are they tend to keep you close to the surface, and they are also very bright in colour so tend to be highly visible.

  4. #4
    Boardworld.com.au Owner rider26's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Smartest Avalanche Beacon

    Check this out.

    BOARDWORLD | Snowboarding news, videos and forums | Facebook

  5. #5
    Ski Shop Owner & Equipment Specialist - Voted Best Boot fitter in Australia (SIA Australia Awards 2013) Paul Oberin's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Smartest Avalanche Beacon

    Quote Originally Posted by rider26 View Post
    Check this out.

    The type of terrain he rides, it was only a matter of time before he got caught out, where he is smart though is he spends very little time in any one chute, he crosses over quickly into the next one where he can, he also tends to ski the ridges a bit, that way if a chutes slides you are usually much safer up on a ridge.
    Like he said though there were warning signs he should have taken into account, and in hindsight there usually is with most slides, it was a warmer day, so the snow crystals are less likely to bond to each other, there was a known layer of snow that was likely to slide, yet they still went out.
    As this guy said also his mouth was full of snow, which is quite common, maybe the addition of an Avalung could have helped here, hopefully one day some company will find a way of having an Avalung / airbag combination in a lightweight pack.

  6. #6
    Boardworld.com.au Owner rider26's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Smartest Avalanche Beacon

    That would be sick. Pull the ripcord and put it in your mouth in one clean motion.
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  7. #7

    Default Re: The Smartest Avalanche Beacon

    Used an ortovox transceiver whilst heli skiing, I have to say that the BCA Tracker 2 is a fair bit more fool proof to put into search, and a bit smaller too!

    On the BCA airbag packs, they are exceptionally good value compared to an ABS. It is worth noting that you can't travel with the canister charged, but any dive shop, fire station or hospital can charge it, dive shops charge around $20. In the US also many ski areas have a ski shop that can charge them.
    *insert witty comment here*

  8. #8
    Ski Shop Owner & Equipment Specialist - Voted Best Boot fitter in Australia (SIA Australia Awards 2013) Paul Oberin's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Smartest Avalanche Beacon

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Oberin View Post
    A lot of people are concerned about taking an Avi pack through an airport, I had it explained to me at the recent Denver trade show how the system works, and it is basically a small cylinder with a screw top lid, this cylinder get filled up with clean breathable compressed air, and when the system is triggered the air cylinder rushes out and fills the airbag, no explosives are involved, the cylinder with out the lid screwed on looks a lot like an Aluminium drink bottle and should appear quite safe to take in you carry on luggage.
    The good thing about using clean compressed air, is the air bag slowly deflates over a few minutes, and if trapped under an avalanche the extra air this provides can keep you alive for a fair bit longer, the two main benefits of an airbag though are they tend to keep you close to the surface, and they are also very bright in colour so tend to be highly visible.
    An update for anyone thinking of taking an airbag to Japan, only cylinders made in Japan are approved and can be filled, so before you part with almost $1,000 for an air bag, look closely into how you will fill the high pressure air bottle.

  9. #9
    Ski Shop Owner & Equipment Specialist - Voted Best Boot fitter in Australia (SIA Australia Awards 2013) Paul Oberin's Avatar
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    Default Re: The Smartest Avalanche Beacon

    The Tracker 3 is out now, a great piece of kit for those going where it may slide.

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