How to do a transceiver trailhead test

Posted on November 27th, 2012 by | 0 Comments

If you’ve been reading any of our Tracker propaganda, you’ve probably seen, ad nauseum, our mantra “always do a trailhead test.” We don’t just say this to absolve ourselves of liability or to meet some European standard. Doing a real, live trailhead test is much more reliable than plugging your beacon into a “diagnostics” device at your retailer–and, more important, it’s a great way to make sure your touring partner actually knows how to turn their beacon on and search with it.

Usually, when things go wrong with beacons, it has to do with the batteries, the switches, or (most often) the user. That’s what you need to test at the trailhead, in that order. The folks at AIARE (American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education) have just put a video together that explains how to do a proper avalanche beacon trailhead test:

Avalanche Transceiver Check from AIARE Avalanche Education on Vimeo.

Note how the leader is secretly checking out how confident his partners are with their beacons. If one of them fumbles around trying to turn their beacon on or going into search mode, that’s a red flag that they’re not honed. Time to take a few minutes for practice. Once he’s convinced they all have batteries and beacon skills, note how he stomps out ahead to check their signal. It’s always best to give at least 20 meters of distance when doing this part of the transceiver test. If a beacon isn’t transmitting properly, then it’s much easier to detect from a distance than from just a few feet away (the signal strength from an avalanche transceiver drops very quickly within a matter of just a few meters).

One other key point: if you’re the leader, always go back to transmit mode after you’ve checked your partners’ signals! This is a common mistake–and is why the Tracker gives you an alarm every 10 minutes if you’re in search mode (it won’t revert to transmit mode at that time unless you chose this option when you turned it on).

This time of year it’s especially important to do that trailhead beacon test: there’s a very good chance that someone in your group left their batteries in their beacon over the summer and drained them. Oh yeah, always do your trailhead test near the car: you might need to go back into the trunk for another beacon or a fresh set of batteries.