Transceiver 101: backcountry safety

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When it comes to safety equipment for backcountry skiing, knowing how to correctly use a Transceiver or Beacon (synonymous) is critical. There are different types of transceivers each with specific instructions, but the basic principles on how they operate are the same for all. Each device can be set in two modes: send and receive.

Transceiver status: SEND

Send will be the standard setting at all times. Before you leave for your ride you need to make sure that:

  1. your battery is charged (70-80% at least for a full day)
  2. the transceiver is turned on and in sending mode
  3. you are wearing the beacon right under your most outer layer (easily accessible)
  4. your transceiver actually working: your guide or a companion will be able to test this by setting his device in receive mode
  5. super important: phones have to be on airplane mode; if you decide to carry a phone, worn it the farthest possible from your chest and the device harness. Go Pros have to be worn on helmets or handheld: wearing the on the chest would also interfere with the transceiver.  

Transceiver status: RECEIVE

Aside from checking if another device is working, you will only need to switch to receive mode when performing a search in case of an avalanche. 

Once in Receive mode, the beacon will provide visual and audible information on distance (meters or feet) and direction (an arrow). All searchers must switch their devices to receive, otherwise you will be surrounded by a bunch of false positives.

How to conduct the search

If you had visual contact with someone who ended up under the avalanche, go straight to where he or she was last seen.

If you did not have visual contact, you need to quickly perform a sweep of the broader terrain known as Core Search. Start moving fast in one direction to understand how the device responds. Does the arrow change direction? Does the distance on the display increase? Once you get a sense of what direction to move to, head straight following the arrow.

Once within 3 meters of your companion’s beacon, your transceiver will switch into Fine Search mode. Remember: the distance also includes the depth your companion is at. You now need to move slower and find the spot with the lowest read. Once you identify the correct spot don’t hesitate: start probing, then dig fast to clear his airways.

In case of multiple victims, turn your companion’s device off so that signals won’t interfere with each others. Some transceivers allow you to mark a specific signal to “Ignore” while in receiving mode: this will permit you or your fellow searchers to proceed to find another companion sooner.

If more than one searcher is available, spreading out and proceeding in parallel will significantly speed up the process. When searching in parallel, each searcher will commit to the closest signal and operate as described above (core search, fine search, mark, probe and dig).

Remember: your guides will walk you through the specifics on how to operate your transceiver and what to do in case of an avalanche. Listen carefully, it could save your life and your buddies.

You can read more in our posts 10 tips in case of an avalanche and safety gear for backcountry skiing.


Backcountry.com is a Utah based company carrying an extensive selection of backcountry safety equipment

You can also check out options on Amazon


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