I was able to get by a few of the booths of the players in the avalanche safety game while at the Outdoor Retailer trade show yesterday. I’m keen to Ortovox products, but it’s always fun to see what other products are out there as well.
My first stop was at Ortovox, who is making some great improvements to the high tech S1 avalanche transceiver. Some of the feedback was that the S1 had too many features, so they have streamlined the S1+ for Fall 2011, automated some features and made it more user friendly. For one, the button on the side to open the LCD screen has been removed, making going to search mode much simpler. Secondly, there will now be only four icons to choose from in the menu screen, the test mode, 4+ mode, search and tools. The S1+ also gets the Smart Antenna technology now in their 3+ unit, which reduces spikes and dead spots. The compass and inclinometer features have been removed (or made unusable by operator), but the beacon now calibrates itself automatically. This is nice because in the past you needed to recalibrate the S1 when you changed the batteries and also when you traveled to a different hemisphere. The S1 will also run on only 2 AAA batteries (it now uses 3) and sell for $449 next year. A $50 reduction in price from this year.
Iâ€™ve been seeing more and more people wearing Ortovox clothing lately. I like the bright colors and slim fit, and the wool products they make compete with the best in the business. One piece I really liked was the Piz Bianco jacket (Piz Bernina), which is insulated with lofted wool, weights about a pound and would be a great extra layer for backcountry skiing. the lofted-wool seems to provide more durable insulation than down and synthetic offerings, and doesn’t harm any animals in the process. They also had a cool Patagonia R1 Hoody-type layer made from a mixture of merino and polyester. These layers that combine a hood into a base layer are great for those super cold days. (Are you listening Arcteryx?)
A couple years ago, a friend from Jackson took over the Pieps department at Liberty Mountain (who distributes Pieps in the US), so when he told me Pieps was coming out with a rechargeable beacon that also had a GPS, I wanted to check it out. The new beacon is called the Vector and while it does use GPS functionality in how it searches, and provides the user with a coordinate to give to SAR (or your mom) in case of an emergency.Â Currently, doesn’t do the track and track-back functions that really make a GPS useful (IMHO), however, the four=antenna Vector (with similar Ortovox-style Smart Antenna) does use the built-in GPS to make searches faster by helping the searcher maximize the 80M search range (most people make their search grids too small). During the secondary search phase (when you actually find a beacon and start to go towards it), and once it has logged a few way-points, the Vector also helps you take a more direct line to the victim, instead of forcing you to follow the line-of-flux, which is a longer distance. The sky is the limit with GPS technology in avalanche beacons and it will be interesting to see where it goes in the future.
Pieps also has a new doggie or snowmobile beacon called the TX600, which transmits at 600Mhz, compared to 457Mhz that all other avalanche transceivers transmit at. While not all transceivers would be able to locate the TX600, the Pieps DPS and Vector units will have a mode to hone in on the 600Mhz frequency. No more RIP for Fido, but you better be ready to give him mouth-to-mouth if he’s not breathing after being buried for 10 minutes. Woof.
I haven’t heard any more information about the BCA Tracker2 update, but the crew at Backcountry Access said they will soon begin testing some of the returned beacons and try to figure out what’s been going on. They do have a nice new inclinometer gadget that they were showing. It can be strapped to your ski or pole, and it’s nice that it now reads up to 60 degrees, the older model stopped at 50, just when things start to get interesting. BCA also will add two more ABS packs to their Float backpack line. A side-country model, the Float 18L ($685) and a larger Float 36L ($785) model, that I think is more of the size I would be interested in using if I were to want an ABS pack.Â Another day at the trade show for me today, then back to JH for more SKIING!!!