Avalanche Transceivers: What We Use

July 29, 2015 D'Arcy McLeish

In my last post, we discussed some of the ins and outs of safety in a heliski operation and how much training we give our guests. Safety is the cornerstone of any heliskiing business and for us, it comes before everything else. There are a lot of things we do to mitigate risk when we’re out there everyday. One of those things is having the right tools, or safety equipment. Along with radios, avalanche probe, shovel and now ABS bags for both guides and guests, everyone out there carries an avalanche transceiver or beacon.

The End Result Of What We Do.  Photo - Dave Silver
The end result of what we do.
Photo – Dave Silver

In the event of an avalanche, aside from the ABS bag, a beacon is the most important thing you carry in the mountains. If someone is buried, it’s the only way to find them and get them out quickly and efficiently. There are a whole host of beacons on the market and all of them have their advantages and distinct methods of use. Nowadays, they all operate on the same frequency, so gone are the days when we had to worry about that type of compatibility. But even though modern beacons all operate on the 457khz frequency, beacons from different manufacturers can still have compatibility issues that lead to slower search times and sometimes even a little electronic confusion. For that reason, we use the same manufacturer for all of our beacons.

The Pulse Barryvox By Mammut. An Awesome Tool For Professionals.
The Pulse Barryvox by Mammut. An awesome tool for professionals.

The guides all use the Pulse Barryvox, which is made by Mammut. The Pulse is my chosen beacon as a ski patroller and in my own humble opinion is the best beacon on the market. It has multiple, advanced functions that allow the professional user to operate with the advantages of both the modern digital beacon and the older, less user friendly but still advantageous analog beacon. For the professional user, with some extensive training, the Pulse is an amazing tool for even the most complex, multiple burial scenarios.

The Element Barryvox By Mammut. This Is Whar We Give Our Guests. It's Simple, Easy To Use And Very Capable.
The Element Barryvox by Mammut. This is whar we give our guests. It’s simple, easy to use and very capable.

So what do we give our guests? There’s not much time to train a new user to use a Pulse. But Mammut makes another, simpler beacon called the Element Barryvox. I’ve used the Element, and while it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the Pulse and only has one user mode, it is very easy to learn on, easy to use and has proven to be, in testing with our guides, as fast as the Pulse in single burial situations.

I Love To Ski.  Photo - Adam Clark Location: Ripley Creek
I love to ski.
Photo – Adam Clark
Location: Ripley Creek

There’s a reason the guide goes first all the time. The guide is the gatekeeper out there. They are the ones looking at the snow and constantly evaluating slopes for safety. They go first so they can test a slope and make sure everything is kosher for the guests. But in the event of an avalanche, it’s important for everyone in the group to learn basic search techniques with their beacon. The Element is great for that. It takes about ten minutes to learn to use it and offers our guests a quick and easy avenue to become proficient at searching for a signal that is buried under the snow. And because it’s basically the same as a Pulse, but with less function, it is perfectly compatible with the guides’ beacons.


There’s a saying we hear often about being in the backcountry: have the right gear and know how to use it. That goes for everything. Shovelling and probing techniques, how to pull the cord on your ABS bag but most of all, how to use your beacon. We take pride in safety at Last Frontier Heliskiing and we feel we offer the best tools on the market for avalanche safety. The beacon and ABS bag are the cornerstones of those tools.

Mitigating Risk At Bell 2.  Photo: Blake Jorgenson
Mitigating risk at Bell 2.
Photo: Blake Jorgenson

But don’t take my word for it. Do a little research and see what others are saying. The Mammut beacons are becoming more and more popular with heliski operators and professional organizations like ski patrols and highway avalanche crews because they offer something for both the professional user and the recreational user and have proven, over years of testing and real world scenarios, that they save lives.

Be safe, ski hard.