How to Practice with your Beacon

Don’t think you can head to the backcountry without knowing how to effectively and efficiently use your avy beacon.
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Don’t think you can head to the backcountry without knowing how to effectively and efficiently use your avy beacon.
Avalanche Beacon Practice tout

Ryan Guess, the North American PIEPS Specialist, shares how to best practice with your beacon before you may have to use it in an emergency.

- Lay a beacon in a field with or without snow—just be sure there are no major electronics or power lines nearby.  
- Turn one device into send mode and lay it on the ground, parallel to how you will be walking towards the device. The goal here is to know how your beacon reacts when you are far enough away for no signal to be received, and how your device will react with a weak signal.
- Many times this is 70+ meters (about 230 feet) so walk out to where you think 70 meters would be. A tape measure comes in very handy as most people grossly underestimate this distance.
- Turn your searching device to on and to search.
- Walk towards the sending device and see at what point your beacon can pick up a signal and hold on to that signal, giving you distance and direction on the screen. I like it to hold a distance for 10 seconds.
- Now that you have tried this, turn the sending beacon in a different direction, maybe perpendicular to the searching beacon and repeat the above process. These numbers can be very different between various beacons.
- Now turn the beacon so it is standing vertical. Do the same test. Many people will be surprised. This is not the information your box gives you. What these ranges are:
-- Max Range (good coupling position): With the sending beacon parallel, this is telling you the max distance that your searching device can receive a signal.
-- Useful Range (Search Strip Width): This is where the sending beacon is perpendicular (poor coupling position) to the searching device. This will be your search strip width number.
-- Worst range (worst coupling position): This is where the beacon is standing upright vertically. This represents a vertical burial situation. This will be the hardest signal for your device to receive, but in all reality vertical burials do occur.

- Go through full searches. Have a friend hide a beacon at a distance. Be sure this distance is out of range, at 70+ meters. Too many people only practice short rescues.
- Go through all stages of a search as you are looking for the hidden device.
-- RUN: Primary Search (finding a signal)
-- WALK: Secondary Search (you have a signal to follow it in to within 3 meters)
-- CRAWL: Pinpoint Search (beacon should be just above the snow surface, finding the minimum distance to begin probing)
- Also go through this with multiple people searching. Your primary search pattern will change with multiple searchers.

Additional Functions
- If you have a Mark/Mask function, set up multiple beacons. Put all of them in send mode. Go find and mark each individually.
- Practice the 3-circle method
- Practice the micro search-strip method
- Practice with any other additional items your device may offer

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