The Canadian Avalanche Centre harbours serious concerns about new smartphone apps being marketed as rescue transceivers — devices that help find people buried in avalanches.
The CAC says three European-made apps — iSis Intelligent (Mountain) Rescue System, Snøg Avalanche Buddy and SnoWhere — can give backcountry users a false sense of protection.
The centre has found a number of issues with the technology, namely compatibility and frequency range.
Transceivers conform to an international standard of 457 kHz (kilohertz), chosen because of accuracy and the ability to transmit through dense snow without being deflected by trees, rocks and other objects. Regardless of brand, all transceivers can be used to search and find other transceivers.
“Those Smartphone apps do not communicate or are not compatible with transceivers. And further they’re not compatible with other apps,” says CAC executive director Gilles Valade.
Also of concern is battery life and range issues. Valade said signals used for Wifi, Bluetooth and GPS do not transmit effectively through snow objects, especially when water is involved.
“If it’s avalanche debris it’s compact snow,” Valade said, noting transceivers are tested for robustness and come with attachments that prevent the devices from falling off in an avalanche.
Another factor is the marketing of Smartphones as a cheap alternative to transceivers. The CAC is especially concerned about young skiers and snowboarders who decide to venture out of bounds for a run or two.
“That’s the clientele they’re targeting,” Valade said. “The ‘better than nothing’ tagline is quite alarming. It is nothing. It’s not a transceiver.”