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The Barryvox S beacon is a highly-refined lifesaving tool. Max Ritter photo.
Avalanche beacons are designed for one thing only: to save lives if you or a buddy get buried in a slide. That being said, they need to be extremely easy to operate, especially in high-stress scenarios where every second counts. For professional users, like ski patrollers and rescue workers, added feature sets (more on that later) are a huge bonus on difficult multiple-burial scenarios. Mammut's Barryvox S beacon offers both these functionalities in one sleek package.
It is both a digital three-antenna beacon and a single antenna analog beacon with up to a 70-meter range, putting it ahead of many beacons on the market. Mammut claims this allows for a 70-meter search strip width during a beacon search. The Smart Search on-screen display of the Barryvox S is somewhat different from other beacons, in that it indicates much more than just a number and a basic direction arrow. In acquisition and coarse search modes, the on-screen prompts show an animation demonstrating what you should be doing (eg. moving fast in a zig-zag across the debris field in acquisition mode, and then slowing down and paying attention to the arrows in coarse mode). Once in the fine search portion of a beacon search, a line and arrow will guide you in performing the cross-bracket pattern in the most efficient manner.
Elyse Saugstad in fine search mode during IPRW 2019. Max Ritter photo.
In most of our test beacon searches at IPRW 2019, the Barryvox S eliminated the need to do all four sides of the bracket and confirmed the lowest number, where we would begin probing. Understanding how these indicators work and what they mean is paramount to using the beacon in real life, but once you figure out the difference, they will help you perform faster and more efficient searches.
Like any other beacon, the Barryvox S uses a marking function to mask a single signal in a multiple-burial scenario. This allows the searcher to ignore the signal of the first beacon found to continue the search for additional victims. The Barryvox S’s multiple burial mode also stands apart from the rest, in that it quickly locks into the strongest signal first and selects it. Essentially the beacon makes a decision for you and points you directly towards the strongest (usually closest) signal. The on-screen prompts will indicate the total number of signals found and the user can toggle between signals using the selection buttons on the side of the device.
Another unique feature is that the beacon will transmit what Mammut calls “vitals” on a separate W-Link frequency. This tech has been around since Mammut's older Pulse beacons. If you are buried wearing your Barryvox S, the beacon’s built-in accelerometer can communicate the fact that you are moving or breathing to any searcher also using a W-Link enabled beacon. It’s a nice added feature, but brings up the ethical question of “do you trust a machine to decide who to dig out first?” We’ll leave that decision up to you, but statistically it should help save lives.
Demonstrating the different pro-mode options of the Barryvox S. Max Ritter photo.
In the optional pro mode, switching on the optional analog tone can act to help advanced searchers determine the number of victims buried in close proximity. While certainly not new technology, it allows pros to effectively us an alternate search strategy like the micro strip or 3-circle method to cope with signal overlap (eg. what would happen when two beacons are both 3 meters apart in opposite directions, confusing the searching beacon). The pro mode allows the user to switch into alternate search modes, toggle between buried signals, and switch on the analog.
The bottom line on the Barryvox S is that the standard mode makes for extremely fast single and multiple burial searches even for users with little to no experience. On top of that, the pro mode unlocks a feature set that enables avalanche professionals to operate efficiently in difficult situations. At $500, the beacon is quite expensive compared to others, but the ease of use and pro-level feature set are well worth the investment.
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