And Why Do I Need One?
One of the most crucial pieces of equipment for backcountry travel – an avalanche transceiver can literally be a life-saver. If you want to backcountry ski and don’t know what an avalanche transceiver is, you need to read this article.
An avalanche transceiver is a vital piece of equipment that allows you to locate a buried victim should an avalanche occur. A transceiver, or sometimes known as a beacon, must always be worn with the included body harness, never in a pocket or backpack. While traveling through the backcountry this device can be the only way to find you if you become completely buried.
While skiing the transceiver must always be on send mode, sending out a signal that is broadcasted on the 457KHZ frequency. This signal is specifically used in avalanche beacons internationally. Should an avalanche occur, you must quickly assess the situation and flip your transceiver into receive mode to locate a victim.
Are There Different Types of Avalanche Transceivers?
With technological advancements in the past decade or so, transceivers have become much more efficient and easier to use. This still does not replace the proper training and practice required to become proficient when it comes to rescuing a buried skier, but it can make finding one much quicker.
The earliest avalanche transceivers used an analog signal, which used a signal with only a single antenna. These types of transceivers are very outdated and inefficient in finding a victim, and should be replaced for the safety of your skiing partners should you still use one.
The standard today are digital transceivers. Once it picks up the signal, digital avalanche transceivers use either two or three antennae to point you in the right direction via arrows and a distance in meters from a transceiver in send mode. Two-antenna transceivers use an X and Y axis, while transceivers with three antennas use X, Y and Z axes.
Three-antenna transceivers are quickly becoming the norm for avid backcountry travelers and guides because they are the most effective, despite their steeper price tag. When it comes down to it, can you really put a price on your own safety?
What Else is Required for Backcountry Travel?
An avalanche transceiver is not the only essential piece of backcountry equipment. Backcountry travel etiquette demands that you carry with you several other key pieces for safety reasons.
Some other required equipment: a shovel, used to dig out a buried victim, and a probe, which is used to help locate someone who is buried. Most importantly, all of these tools are useless if you do not have the proper training on how to use them.
Learning how to read an avalanche report is also paramount to your safety. On any given day, slope and snow conditions can vary dramatically. Wind direction, snowfall, moisture content in the snow, temperature, elevation and exposure to sunlight are all factors that must be considered.
By understanding what these reports are saying, you will prevent yourself from entering into dangerous zones, minimizing your chance of getting caught in an avalanche.
Learning how to dig a pit, assess snowpack and effectively locate a buried transceiver are not skills that can be learned by reading books or taking an online class. These are things that must be learned in the field from trained professionals. Find out where you can be properly trained to use an avalanche transceiver here.
Avalanches are a serious, serious matter. On average, 42 people a year are killed by avalanches in North America. 1 out of 4 of those are killed by trauma, while the rest die from being asphyxiated when buried underneath the cement-like snow. Even the most experienced backcountry travelers are at risk of getting caught in an avalanche.
Do not become a statistic. Know before you go.
Bringing a transceiver with you is an absolute must on any backcountry journey. Don’t head up the mountain without one.