Like the airbag in your car, the avalanche transceiver is one piece of kit that you never hope you’ll use. That said, it is pretty much the single most important piece of kit you can have on you when you venture off piste.
Without wanting to put a downer on your day/sound like your preachy mom, having one could be the difference between snowboarding the next day and being dug up as cold and stiff as a turd in a beer cooler.
We wish transceivers were as affordable as say, a pair of snowboard socks, but the sad reality is that they can cost quite a bit of your hard earned. Still, we think you'll agree that they’re probably worth every penny if they'll end up saving you or your buddy’s life.
To help you get the most bang for your buck the as a transceiver that suits you, here are the main features you should look out for when considering buying one:
[part title='Operating Frequency and Compatibility']
The operating frequency of a transceiver is the frequency at which it emits and detects signals. All modern transceivers will operate at the international standard of 457kHz, essentially meaning that they are all compatible with each other. If you have an ancient transceiver (pre-1986), check it uses the 457kHZ frequency or can it and get a new one.
[part title='Digital vs Analog Beacons']
Like TVs and pretty much everything else these days, most modern transceivers are fully digital. Digital transceivers are fitted with multiple antennae and processors to present data as both an audible signal (a beep) and a visual display. This visual display will usually indicate both the direction and distance to the victim and should adapt very quickly to changing signals. They are more intuitive to use than analog transceivers and so recommended for novices.
Totally analog transceivers are relatively hard to come by these days. They only have one antenna and typically only present the user with a beep that gets louder as you get closer to the victim. In general they have larger search ranges than digital ones but require a fair bit more expertise and an understanding of electromagnetic flux patterns (it's not as complicated as it sounds) to use properly.
We’d always personally always go for a digital one unless you’re already well accustomed to using an analog one.
[part title='Search Range']
The search range is a figure given by the manufacturer and usually indicates the maximum detection range at the strongest antenna alignment/signal strength possible. The greater the signal, the greater the search range but it’s worth bearing in mind that range is dependent on the orientation of the transmitter compared to the receiver.
[part title='Number of Antennae']
Antennae are the little thinga-majigs inside transceivers that transmit and receive signals to and from other beacons. Most newer models that have multiple antennae will be able to electronically choose the best one to use automatically because as we mentioned earlier, signal strength depends on relative antennae orientation between transmitter and receiver. As a general rule of thumb, the more antennae there are, the better.
[part title='Searches with Multiple Burials']
Many transceivers provide users the option of being able to locate multiple buried victims at the same time. These functions usually display the total number of victims on the digital display and allow you to mask a victim’s signal once you have located and them and marked their burial position so you can continue searching for others. These functions are typically a little more advanced and require a good understanding of the way the transceiver operates. but you wouldn't buy something and not read the manual right?
In all seriousness, it's super important that whichever transceiver you end up going for you learn how to use correctly. You can have the flashiest one in the world but if you can't work it you may as well be holding a flipping banana...