Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Snow-be": The Freeloading Australian Avy "Beacon"

I was about to write "Freerider" but in the skiing context that means something different.

So the "free rider" in question here is more of a "freeloader" as commonly termed:

"In economics, collective bargaining, psychology, and political science, a free rider (or freeloader) is someone who consumes a resource without paying for it, or pays less than the full cost. The free rider problem is the question of how to limit free riding (or its negative effects). Free riding is usually considered to be an economic problem only when it leads to the non-production or under-production of a public good (and thus to Pareto inefficiency), or when it leads to the excessive use of a common property resource."
The resource here is communal avalanche beacon usage and rescue skills.  The free rider is the company Snow Beacon and anyone who buys its "snow-be" transmit-only beacon.

True, transmit-only beacons have been made previously.  But the Ortovox D1/Hunderetter was marketed very explicitly toward hunters and their dogs in off-snow contexts (complete with a hunter green color scheme).  The Barryvox S2 and Arva Life Bip came with straps that suggested usage by dogs (bad if intended in an avalanche context, but fine otherwise).  Various references also seem to suggest applications for tents/gear on remote mountaineering expeditions (probably made sense, pre-GPS).  And the current Pieps Backup transmitter, although it could be misused in lieu of a beacon, is marketed as, well, a backup for beacons that lack an emergency revert-to-transmit function.

The "snow-be" is so cheap as to approach the price of an impulse buy, and its marketing is essentially encouraging potential users who are ignorant of rescue protocol to remain so.

The Snow Beacon website has all sorts of feel-good text about how the company wants to help skiers stay safe, but the product and most importantly its marketing (both on the website and the affiliated Facebook page) instead is encouraging skiers to:
  • remain ignorant of how to search with a true avalanche beacon;
  • depend upon the skills and equipment of skiers who buy true avalanche beacons; and,
  • run away from a rescue site ("it may safer for all if you move away from an incident to a place of safety"), as the website doesn't stress turning off the snow-be instead.
Let's all hope this doesn't sell well...


  1. Thankfully the whole community seems to be deriding this technology: http://unofficialnetworks.com/dangerous-piece-avalanche-safety-gear-world-snowbe-98574/

  2. The collective outrage is indeed quite impressive on TGR, ttips, various blogs, and the company's own FB page (where the negative comments keep being deleted, but then immediately pile up again).
    The company's website has modified somewhat its previously unqualified verbiage -- we'll see how this plays out. I suspect that backcountry ski shops and etailers will stay far away from this, but I can also see how alpine downhill ski shops might snatch these up in big quantities...

  3. Detailed documentation of changes in website so far:
    Unfortunately, no changes to the product...