Transceiver 101: backcountry safety

This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, you will contribute some pennies to our skiing saving account!

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


Safety equipment for backcountry skiing

This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, you will contribute some pennies to our skiing saving account!

The proper safety equipment is essential to fully enjoy your backcountry skiing. Unless you are a super experienced skier (aka guide level) or enjoy venturing off piste often, it will be unlikely for you to buy any of the below. Heli-skiing companies or local guides will provide you with everything, including (mandatory) training on the equipment or advice on where to rent. The most comprehensive safety gear includes all of the below, with beacons, probes and shovels being required.

Beacon (essential)

Probe, shovel (essential)

Radio (recommended)

Air-bag (nice to have)

Learn more about the essential gear as well as our 101 guides on how to use transceivers, probes and shovels.

Beacon or Transceiver

This is the single most important piece of security equipment to carry with you anytime you are out riding in powder. It’s a transceiver device that sends and receives a radio signal at a specific frequency. This will allow your ski buddies to find you under the snow in case of an avalanche and vice versa. So you really need to know how to you use it properly! Read our Transceiver 101 guide

Probe and Shovel

Once you master the art of using the beacon you have to be prepared to park the technology and pull out your analog devices. The probe is a long stick that will allow you to understand exactly where someone is buried before you actually pull out the shovel and start digging. Read our 101 guide to probing and digging 


Making sure that you are properly equipped is just the beginning. During your safety training you will learn more on how to behave in case of an avalanche. If interested, you can also read our related post on 10 tips on how to survive an avalanche

You can find more an extensive offering of avalanche safety equipment on Backcountry.com

In case of an avalanche – 10 tips

Being ready and knowing how to survive an avalanche is a must to enjoy your wildest mountain adventures. No one wants to face an avalanche, but as they say… Better safe than sorry!

During our Heli-skiing and backcountry adventures we went through several rounds of avalanche training and we now want to share those learnings with you. Below you can find our 10 tips on how to survive an avalanche as well as the recommended equipment to have with you when venturing off piste.

“In case of an avalanche” checklist

  1. Shout: When you notice the terrain starts moving and you or some of your companions are in it, don’t think – shout. Let people know immediately what’s happening, you will have greater chances of skiing out of it. Your first instinct will guide you, start skiing and head to the sides of the snow front.
  2. Drop: If you can’t ski out of it, remove your poles immediately and if you can remove your skis as well.
  3. Swim: If you fall, start swimming (literally) and when you feel the avalanche is slowing down swim faster, heading to the surface.
  4. Prepare to stop: Right before the avalanche stops, bring one arm in front of your face and tuck your mouth under your elbow to protect it from the snow and help create some breathing space. Stick your other arm straight up, you might really be close to the surface and a glove sticking out might be all it takes for a companion to locate you.
  5. Count: If you witness an avalanche or manage to ski out of it and are in a group, the first thing once it stops is to do a headcount. Before heading out for the day, you need to memorize  the number of people that are with you including the guides.
  6. Signal: Whoever in the group has a Radio should get on it and communicate location, name of the guide/group, count of missing people and ask for instructions.
  7. Exercise caution: Look around to verify if conditions are safe to start a search or if you should rather wait for search and rescue teams to intervene and help.
  8. Visual check: If it’s safe and there are people missing, it’s time to start the search. Visually search if you see any signs of your missing companions (don’t step on the beacon if you see an arm sticking out of the snow!).
  9. Receive: Make sure your search companions all switch their transceivers from send to receive (and check them all!).
  10. Search: Start searching! For more information on how to use the transceiver, you can read our Transceiver 101 guide.

We recommend to also read our post on safety equipment for backcountry skiing. Learn more about the recommended gear as well as our 101 guides on beacons, probes and shovels.

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Probing and Digging 101: backcountry safety

This post includes affiliate links. If you purchase through these links, you will contribute some pennies to our skiing saving account!

Probing 101

As mentioned in our post on safety equipment for backcountry skiing, knowing how to probe is critical to correctly identify where someone may be buried in case of an avalanche.
There are 2 different approaches to probing, depending if your companion is wearing a transceiver or not:

    1. If your companion is wearing a transceiver, stand right on top of the spot where you got the lowest distance reading and stick the probe around you making concentric circles, first very small right around your boots and then larger until you get a positive strike. When you do, leave the probe in the snow. It will serve as a marker on where to dig no matter what happens next. For more information also read our Transceiver 101 guide
    2. If your companion is not wearing a transceiver, you will need to spot probe: focus around the fall line of where he was last seen, around his equipment on the snow surface, above and below rocks and trees or deposition areas such as depressions, the toe of the avalanche. If you have enough man power, proceed to cover the field with an organized search line starting from the bottom and moving your way up.

Digging 101

Backcountry shovels usually can be mounted both in the traditional shape we use to dig our driveway before going to work in the morning or also as hoes. This second mounting is the best one to use after you get a positive strike with the probe. It allows you to dig much faster by moving the snow behind you while kneeling or standing. If you have anyone around, he can also kneel or stand right behind you and get rid of the snow you are digging in a sort of chain effect.


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

You can also easily purchase backcountry probes and shovels on Amazon: