I long ago decided that it was of utmost importance that my backcountry friends carried a beacon they could read and use - after all, if an avalanche runs they are going to be looking for me.
Ortovox, a 32-year old company based in Munich Germany, has its distribution center located in West Valley, Utah. The S1 beacon is top-of-the-line avalanche transceiver technology.
At a $500 price point it's one of the spendier beacons on the market, but now Ortovox has introduced S1Plus with improved technology and a reduced price - $450. New to the beacon is a smart antenna that analyses the position of the buried person and automatically switch its outgoing signals to an optimal transmission position. In other words, if you're buried vertically, instead of sending vertical waves that will be harder to follow, the smart antenna will adjust the waves to a horizontal transmission, the result being a quicker find.
The beacon opens like a flip cell phone with a screen that shows a complete overview of the burial situation. A bearing line shows your own position and direction arrows along with precise distance information to lead you, as quickly as possible, to your buddy under the snow.
More intuitive than past beacons, this one also allows you to flag found bodies in a multiple burial situation. Find one, flag it, and the beacon quits picking up its signal so you can move on to the next burial.
Jamie Adams, a member of the Alpine Meadows Pro Ski Patrol in California had the priviledge of competing in the 2nd Annual Ski Patrol Olympics at Squaw Valley against others from all over North America.
"My experience with the S1 in numerous avy search scenarios and beacon park run-through yeilded the same super quick results...without fail," he said. "The display, flagging, range, and pinpoint functions are all top notch."
Adams won the gold medal by 32 seconds and attributes his success to Ortovox's S1. Now, with the S1 Plus the beacon performs even better for more saved lives and a neat function that allows the beacon to automatically revert from a receiving signal to a transmitting signal if the beacon is still for more than 90-120 seconds. If a second avalanche runs and catches the searchers, their Ortovox S1 Plus beacons will automatically start transmitting rather than searching. Some life saving upgrades for $50 less.
Ortovox - S1 Plus; MSRP: $450; Upgradable device; 3 antenna
Lori Lee is a freelance writer and snowshoe guru at www.snowshoeutah.com.