Avalanche transceivers are devices worn on the body that emit a signal. If one is buried in an avalanche, other transceivers carried by the party pick up the signal being emitted from under the snow. The receiving transceivers interpret the signal into a visual and audible display that guides the searcher towards the transmitting beacon.
Transceivers work by sending out and receiving electromagnetic signals. In one mode, they send the signals. Switched to another mode, they receive them. So when your group heads for the hills, you should all be wearing transceivers and have them set to "transmit" or "send."
Transceivers should be strapped around the waist and over the shoulder, worn underneath the outer layer of clothing. If anyone is buried in an avalanche, that person's transceiver will be sending out a signal to tell the others where he or she is. The other transceivers then need to be switched to "receive" to pick up the signal.
WARNING: Avalanche victims can die from either asphyxiation or trauma. For those victims who are buried alive, transceivers can be highly effective tools in saving lives. There are no guarantees, however. First and foremost, you must recognize and avoid dangerous avalanche conditions.
For more information, read the REI Expert Advice avalanche basics articles.
All avalanche transceivers transmit and receive electronic signals in the same way. How they process or interpret that signal for the user to read differs among models.
RECCO® detectors are different from transceivers. They are thin, card-size units that are embedded by some manufacturers into ski products such as jackets, pants, boots or helmets. RECCO detectors complement—but do NOT replace—the use of avalanche transceivers. These passive transponders reflect and enhance the radio signals sent by the RECCO detector units used by many search-and-rescue organizations. This may mean quicker acquisition of a victim's position in an avalanche.
The RECCO system offers many benefits:
Speed really matters, so it's critical that you understand your avalanche transceiver and practice using it. Each manufacturer provides detailed instructions on how to search quickly and efficiently using its technology.
Whatever transceiver you use, the basics are these: Once you identify a buried transceiver, you will save time if you positively identify the location using a probe, then dig down using a sturdy shovel designed for moving snow quickly.
This distance is given by the manufacturer and often represents the strongest antenna alignment/signal possible. This measurement may not be the same in the field. Transceivers with a greater range may allow you to pick up a signal from a farther distance, but range is completely dependent on the orientation of the transmitting transceiver to the receiving transceiver.
Digital transceivers have a slightly smaller range in which they will pick up a signal, but once they get one, they are generally faster to the victim's transceiver. If you are new to avalanche transceivers, a digital model is the easiest to learn.
Analog transceivers can generally pick up a signal from a greater distance, but they require more user practice to yield reliable search accuracy. If you are familiar with the search methods used with these models, or are willing to take the extra time to learn and practice, then an analog transceiver is a good choice.
Shop REI's selection of avalanche transceivers.
By Steve Tischler
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Last updated: 12/26/2012
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