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Pieps Freeride Beacon

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Do you check to see what kind of avalanche beacon your partner is carrying? I ask because there are a wide range of beacons on the market, and some of them are a lot easier to use than others. Case in point: the new Pieps Freeride. The Freeride is a tiny-tiny device about the size of a pre-3G cell phone. I admit I got a bit of a thrill holding one for the first time. The design is compact, light, and cool.

— November 21, 2009

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

Scott November 24, 2009 at 3:04 am

The prospects of this device frighten me. I'll still steer people towards the Tracker DTS.

Of course, this is all ignoring that the surest way to not die in an avalanche is to not get caught in one in the first place...

Andy November 24, 2009 at 7:22 am

Assuming I get comfortable with my search times, I'll probably be carrying the Freeride inbounds in storms and off piste for spring tours when avalanche risk is low.

For me the big disconnect here is that Pieps isn't marketing this as a niche/expert device. Given the price, first-time buyers could easily think this is an entry-level beacon, not realizing how much they're giving up compared to a modern two or three-antenna DSP design.

And yeah, I really do like the Tracker DTS. It's basically mindless to use, and fast, fast, fast.

Scott November 24, 2009 at 10:26 am

If you're at a ski area with RECCO search equipment, I can't imagine this would be of much use. Of course, here in SoCal the areas with good skiing don't actually have RECCO equipment.

It seemed to me that the marketing wasn't just neglecting to mention that it was an expert device, it was actually pushing it as a beginner device, a cheaper alternative to other beacons out there. I believe that Pieps PR people have literally said (in response to the lower functionality of the device) that "any beacon is better than no beacon and this will have more people wearing beacons". That's fine and dandy if they're the ones buried, but if they've got to search? Sounds like instilling an irresponsibly false sense of security.

Then again, just finding the person with the beacon is only half the battle; any idiot can use a Tracker DTS but what they do once they get to the victim is important and takes prior knowledge and practice as well.

Jonathan Lemkin November 24, 2009 at 12:00 pm

The common wisdom with beacons holds true -- the best beacon is one you've practiced with until the point it becomes automatic, not the one with the latest electronics. In a beacon course not long ago I finished 3rd out of 20 with an Ortovox F1, old tech which reads on flux lines. Beat a lot of patrollers with their latest and greatest digital toys. Too many settings and choices on the new ones with screens that were tough to read in bright sun.

I also prefer the anatomical curve on the F-1. I put it on and forget it's there. This doesn't mean it's the best beacon. But I know how to use it, it's failsafe in the sense that putting on the harness turns the unit on, and it's got the minimal info needed.

If I was guiding, I'd pick something up for multiple burials and practice over and over. I'm not. I'm generally out with just 1 partner.

As for the DTS, I have seen it more than once flick over from search to send without prompting -- completely throwing off a practice rescue. Tracker swore it was a mistake on our part, not properly switching the unit. I'd rather have a tool with few options. However, if you practice on that one, it's probably great as well.

Chris November 24, 2009 at 10:50 pm

I always assumed that this new Freeride Beacon would operate and perform similarly to the old Pieps 457. Is that not the case?

Andy November 25, 2009 at 7:01 am

Chris, I'm not familiar with the 457, but looking over the specs, they do appear similar. Basically with the Freeride you're stepping back to older technology. Flux-line searchers like Jonathan should feel right at home with it. I am going to guess, however, that most people will search faster with a modern multi-antenna beacon.

Quick note on the Tracker DTS - it does have a switchable safety feature to automatically revert to transmit mode if the beacon doesn't receive a signal after a few minutes. This is apparently not the default setting -- it has to be enabled by the user. Most beacons do something similar to handle unexpected second avalanches, or the user forgetting to put the beacon in transmit mode after running a practice search.

Chris November 27, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Well, those of us who were skiing out-of-bounds 10+ years ago will certainly remember single-antenna beacons like the Pieps 457. Then I was introduced to the Tracker in 1999, and things started to change very quickly.

Single-antenna beacons, with practice, can still be efficient, especially with single burials, IMHO. The key phrase in that sentence was "with practice". If someone is willing to take an extra afternoon to be familiar with this beacon, the cost savings could be completely worth it.

Chris November 28, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Did I just say that? I don't mean to apply that extra practice is worth saving $150. I do think Andy hit it on the head. If it means going without or going with a transceiver that requires more practice to use, I want people to opt for the latter.

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