“Two-thirds of avalanche deaths are caused by suffocation. In the first fifteen minutes of complete burial, 86 percent of avalanche victims are found alive. Between sixteen to 30 minutes, an equal number are found dead as alive. After 30 minutes, the survival rate continues to diminish rapidly.”-Dale Atkins, Colorado Avalanche Information Center

Picture this: you and some buddies are about to hike into the backcountry. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and just past those out-of-bounds gates await limitless amounts of untracked, bottomless powder.

“Hey, Joey! Here’s that extra transceiver you wanted to borrow,” says someone behind you. Turning, you eye Joey warily. “Does he even know how to use a transceiver?” you wonder. Reflecting on the amount of time that’s elapsed since you practiced using yours, you think, “Man, do I even remember how to use this?” But it’s a beautiful day, everyone’s anxious to get going, so you blow off the uneasy feeling and head out of bounds anyway.

What if something happens-say, an avalanche? You may have a transceiver, but do you really know how to use it? What about your friends? Do they have the skills to save your ass in an emergency situation?

Welcome to the future of avalanche-safety technology. It’s called the Tracker DTS -the world’s first digital avalanche beacon (transceiver). This is the way it works: with conventional transceivers, the people searching pick up a signal (which registers as an audible beeping sound) transmitted from the buried transceiver. That audio signal has to be interpreted by the rescuers, using avalanche rescue knowledge and “grid” search techniques, in order to locate the buried victim. The process takes some practice to master. The Tracker DTS receives the same incoming signal from the buried transceiver, but picks it up on a three-dimensional antenna (regular transceivers are one-dimensional). This means that it receives the signal on three separate points on its antenna (instead of just one). Using a process similar to triangulation1, the Tracker determines where the signal is coming from, and then passes that information on to the rescuer.

In search mode, a numeric display on the Tracker indicates (in meters) the approximate distance of the buried receiver, and lights show the general direction of its location. (However, it doesn’t specify whether the transceiver signal is coming from in front, or behind you-only that you are lined up with it-which can throw off an unprepared rescuer.) In the case of multiple burials, an option button makes it possible to isolate signals in order to search for one victim at a time, or to assign separate rescuers to each victim. A speaker broadcasts audible beeps within close range to reinforce the visual display. And, in case of a secondary avalanche, after five minutes in search mode, the Tracker automatically reverts (if not overridden by searcher) to transmit mode.

The major complaint about the Tracker is its price. Retailing for about 290 dollars, it’s a bit more expensive than other transceivers on the market. However, if you’re planning to invest in a transceiver, consider this statement by Bruce Edgerly of Backcountry Access, “In avalanche training’s last season by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, novices on the Tracker DTS were almost as fast in finding buried transmitters as experts on conventional transceivers. With conventional transceivers, novices took twelve to fifteen minutes to find a victim. But with the Tracker, their time was cut to three to four minutes.” Keep in mind, that a “novice” in this situation is still someone who has actually taken an avalanche safety course.

The truth is, no one should venture into the backcountry without first receiving some sort of avalanche-awareness education-sadly, the reality is often much different. The Tracker is not a transceiver for idiots, it’s just leading a revolution in transceiver technology. Purchasing the Tracker DTS should nott come at the expense of learning rescue techniques and how to avoid an avalanche in the first place, period. Because when it comes to real-life rescue situations, a shovel and a transceiver (any transceiver, including the Tracker) aren’t going to do a hell of a lot of good if you don’t know how to use them.

The Tracker DTS uses a 457 kHz frequency, so it is fully compatible with all modern, conventional transceivers. Call Backcountry Access at 1-800-670-8753 for a list of North American retailers that sell the Tracker. And while you’re at it, ask them about their video, Winning the Avalanche Game. Because the knowledge you gain today, just might save a life tomorrow.

-Melissa

1. “Trigonomic operation for finding a position or location by means of bearings from two fixed points a known distance apart.”-Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary