We continue with our Outdoor Retailer Winter Market trends wraps so we can bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out -- or you get bored. No, each report does not name every company with new product and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. So if you're not mentioned, our brains were either too fogged out from the smog to think straight or we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on noteworthy trends and new products for avalanche beacons:
Once again, claims and counterclaims are creeping into the conversations about avalanche beacons. Much of this comes from the marketing efforts required to justify the latest high-tech gadgetry that is used primarily to differentiate one beacon from another on the market.
Among the key selling points of recent high-tech beacons is the supposed ability to speed the search when there are multiple victims and multiple rescuers involved. Some of these newer, high-tech versions, such as the Pieps DSP (MSRP $380), require the latest software upgrade to fully enable this function. This has created a bit of a problem, SNEWS® was told by more than a few retailers, because stores often don't have stock with the most recent software, currently 4.0. That means consumers must pay an extra $20 and send in their new beacon if they don't happen to be local to one of the few shops with the updating equipment.
Other high-tech beacons, such as the Mammut Pulse (MSRP $400), only work with all the features firing if everyone in the group has the same model; an unlikely scenario unless the group is really small and everyone happens to be a Pulse (old Barryvox) fan. The Ortovox S1, which continues to be vaporware and is now unlikely to appear in stores until next fall, will cost nearly twice as much (MSRP $585) as most basic models, but theoretically will be the king of multi-burial searches if it manages to deliver all the promised features.
Next season, Backcountry Access plans to unveil the Tracker2 (MSRP $335), which eschews all the multi-burial, gee-whiz features in favor of flat-out faster searches and reasonable cost. The company's argument, which actually holds a lot of water, is that none of the rescues in North America in the past decade would have been helped by fancier beacons which, Backcountry Access argues, are actually less effective because all the bells and whistles slow down processor time.
Meanwhile, Arva beacons continue to play musical chairs with distributors. In recent years, its beacons have gone from Climb Axe to Life-Link and are now being handled by Wasatch Ski Distribution (which also handles Ski Trab). They are decent beacons and hopefully have found a long-term U.S. home that will work on brand awareness.