There’s an article over on the UnofficialNetworks blog about a new piece of “avalanche safety gear” made by a company called Snow-Beacon. The article, which I encourage you to read for yourself, describes the “SnowBe” as the “THE MOST DANGEROUS PIECE OF “AVALANCHE SAFETY GEAR” THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOW | THE “SNOW-BE” HAS NO SEARCH MODE.” It’s being passed around the outdoor community with very little analysis.
Now the first thing I thought about this, just reading the title mind you, was that this is no different than the well-known RECCO safety device.
Again, I haven’t analysed the Snow-Be (which is pink, BTW), nor have I delved into its marketing literature. There may indeed be some deceptive working in there that indicates that this device is somehow suitable for backcountry skiing. However, a quick perusal of the site reveals the opening words which reads “This is not a back-country product, it is ideal for in-resort family skiing in the northern hemisphere conditions” — and goes on to detail how the device is a send-only beacon that is useful for use in bounds in ski resorts. Of course this verbiage may be in response to the backlash raging in social media all day.
I, for one, have no trouble with their claim.
In fact this makes the new device somewhat more useful than the RECCO device in the following respect: the RECCO is a passive radio frequency reflector which requires a bulky, expensive and specialized device to search for it. Ski hills own these, but not all ski patrollers carry one. This means they are unable to initiate a search until the RECCO is brought to the scene.
Many ski patrollers do however carry an avalanche transceiver, which would allow them to search for the Snow-Be immediately. In addition, many SAR and backcountry skiers such as myself, tend to wear an avalanche tranceiver while in-bounds just because we have them.
Ultimately I have a problem with both the RECCO and the SnowBe products — how they are sold, and the level of misinformation that tends to gather around technological devices. The respective companies have decided to sell a product as a “safety” device and have a public education problem to explain exactly what the device does, and what it does not do. This doesn’t always make them responsible for the stupidity of the users.
I have spent many 15 minute ski lift rides trying to convince resort skiiers that the RECCO reflector sewn into their clothing was not a “beacon”, nor was it transmitting any signals, and that while it did make them easier to find if they were caught in an avalanche, the likelihood that they would be alive was remote.
I have had similar conversations with people who thought that a GPS would allow them to signal for help, and one extremely misinformed individual who thought that he would be able to radio for help with his FRS if he was buried.
Ultimately, some people will buy this product, and like the people to drive a car into a lake because “the GPS told them to,” some people will either be misinformed, or be deliberately ignorant and believe that this is an avalanche beacon. This does not make the product dangerous, any more than the RECCO reflector, a GPS, a cell phone, or a car if you don’t understand what they’re for or how they work.