When it comes to ski gear, an avalanche transceiver is just about as un-sexy as it gets. Getting new skis, bindings, boots, outerwear, or even skins feels exciting, but a beacon is the most expensive piece of gear you hope to never need. If a day in the backcountry goes right, I’ll use one for a few minutes each morning for a routine function check and then stow it away for the rest of the day.
In the past, I haven’t spent much time fretting about my beacon. However, I started using the Mammut Barryvox S Beacon three months ago and have been really impressed by the power, range, reliability, and intuitive feel of this compact device.
You may think it impossible to get fired up about an avalanche transceiver, but this one has me pretty psyched.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Barryvox S is the fact that you can choose between Standard Mode and Pro Mode, which gives professionals advanced customization and tools for managing groups while keeping things a little more simple and intuitive for recreationalists. I’ll touch on the Pro Mode features, but I’ve mostly been using the Barryvox S in Standard.
The auto-guidance and Smart Search features are what stand out to me the most. When the beacon acquires a signal, dynamic screen icons take you through the whole process as you get closer to your target. Progressing through signal search, coarse search, and fine search, animations give the searcher visual queutheses alongside the numbers and arrows. It also locks in on the signal you’re tracking and doesn’t get distracted in the event of signal overlap in a multiple-burial scenario.
I’ve found the processor in the Barryvox S to be incredibly powerful. Even while running downhill towards a buried beacon, the system seamlessly keeps up with my exact spot in the search without lagging. Any lag while conducting a fast-paced search can make it easy to get off course and lose precious seconds, a common issue with most other beacons. And if you’re actually headed in the completely wrong direction, a U-turn arrow instructs you to turn around instead of waiting to see the numbers going up.
Smart Search is designed to shave a few seconds off of the fine search, allowing the searcher to zero in on the signal by following the arrows exactly, instead of conducting the standard grid search that is taught in most avalanche courses. Following the arrows like an “airplane landing strip” took me right to my target every time so I only have to probe once (maybe twice) before getting a strike.
Compared to the BCA Tracker 3—my previous beacon—the large screen and dynamic visual queues feel a bit superfluous right out of the box. However, after I had practiced a handful of beacon searches and adjusted to the system, it felt intuitive to follow and more efficient than the searches I’d done in the past. Now I really appreciate the auto-guidance that shows me what process I am in the search. It’s a detail that I believe would be really beneficial in a real-life scenario where chaos and panic threaten to throw you off your game.
The Rescue Send feature is another great addition to the Barryvox S. In the rare event that a secondary avalanche takes out any member of the team during a rescue, the auto revert setting switches the beacon back to send after it’s been motionless for four minutes. The 70-meter range isn’t unique to the Barryvox S, but I haven’t seen a beacon with a longer range, so that’s another bonus. When comparing it side-by-side with my Tracker 3, I picked up a signal with the Barryvox S first each time.
Pro Mode is something I’ve tested a bit and opted not to use in my everyday routine, but it has powerful capabilities designed for guides, patrollers, and other avalanche professionals who are looking for more customization. Features like Group Check reduce interference when doing a pre-tour beacon check with multiple clients, something that comes in handy at a crowded trailhead. Pro Search mode also allows the searcher to hear the analog sound, which can help a proficient searcher distinguish between signal overlap in a complex multiple burial situation you might find near a ski resort or other crowded zone.
With a lofty price tag, the Barryvox S is significantly more expensive than its competitors, but if you’re going to splurge on something, you might as well make it the piece of gear that could save your life.
It’s definitely worth noting that even the best beacon in the world is useless without proper training and practice, and the Barryvox requires users to commit adequate time and effort to feel really dialed while using it.
Bottom line? It’s an incredibly reliable and powerful receiver for any recreational skier who plans to spend lots of time in the backcountry and is willing to put in the time to practice with it. But, if you only go into the backcountry once in a blue moon and don’t plan to up your volume of out-of-bounds days, maybe the Barryvox S is overkill. Even for new skiers who plan to spend more and more time in the backcountry, I’d recommend splurging on the Barryvox S now.