January 13, 2020
Bruce Edgerly shows off ‘Big Blue’, a prototype created by electrical engineer John Hereford that proved an avalanche transceiver could contain two antennas and process a signal digitally to show distance and direction. The BCA Tracker was named as a leading safety technology by Backcountry Magazine in its January 2020 issue.
One score and five years ago, Backcountry Access and Backcountry Magazine each got their start in business. In honor of its anniversary, Backcountry Magazine selected Backcountry Access as one of the “Disrupters of the Deep” a key influencer in the development of backcountry safety over the past 25 years. In their January 2020 issue, they wrote: “Winter wouldn’t be what it is without the following influential elements that have shaped backcountry skiing and riding in North America.”
Originally Published by Backcountry Magazine
Leading safety technology from Backcountry Access, 25 years later
In 1994, Bruce Edgerly and Bruce McGowan founded Backcountry Access in a Boulder, Colorado garage. At the time, telemark gear was the easiest means with which to access the backcountry, but Edgerly and McGowan were unwilling to accept its limitations. By 1996, they began producing and selling the Alpine Trekker, an adapter that interfaced with alpine bindings and boots, enabling a free heel for uphill mobility. The metal mechanism would help skiers make their first foray into the backcountry.
The Trekker was just the beginning for BCA. In 1997, they released the first iteration of the Tracker beacon, dubbed the Tracker DTS. “We would go on hut trips to the Alfred Braun Huts, and usually on the first day, you’d go out and do a little beacon practice, and everyone would always completely flail doing the grid searches,” Edgerly explains. “So one of our friends who was an electrical engineer said, ‘I can do better than this by making a digital version.’ That’s how it started.”
The Tracker was the first beacon with a digital interface and two antennas, which allowed for precise spot searches. “In the old days, you had to walk around in a systematic grid pattern and determine when the signal was getting stronger and weaker and change direction,” Edgerly continues. “With two antennas, the transceiver could compare the signal strength on each antenna and tell you which direction to go to make the signal equal on both antennas, then crunch the numbers and tell you how far away the signal was.”
BCA, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, has innovated far beyond the Alpine Trekker and that first Tracker avalanche beacon. Subsequent Tracker iterations – the Tracker 2, Tracker 3, and new Tracker S – are perennially the top-selling avalanche transceivers in North America. In addition to significant education and avalanche safety marketing from BCA, the company wares include shovels, probes, avalanche airbags, two-way radios, and protective snowmobile gear.
“Instead of just making reactive equipment like transceivers and shovels that you use once someone gets buried, we’ve been getting more proactive – airbags, for instance – to prevent yourself from getting buried,” Edgerly says. “We’re focused on prevention through radios: communication is often a big contributor to avalanche accidents, so our radios are also a proactive tool.”