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In recent weeks a social-media firestorm has been set ablaze as several pro skiers and ski industry professionals have come out claiming that the Pieps DSP Pro and DSP sport avalanche transceivers have a fundamental design flaw that is inherently dangerous. And these folks have good reason to believe so.
Professional skier Nick McNutt was caught and buried by an avalanche in the Pemberton, British Columbia backcountry in March 2020 that shattered his arm and left him helplessly buried under several feet of snow for roughly five minutes. He couldn’t move but knew he was in good hands as he was riding with trained avalanche professionals that day that were able to rescue him with lightning-fast efficiency. But little did he know that his Pieps DSP Pro transceiver had turned off in the avalanche and that his buddies were probing blind.
Now, he’s shared a video on his Instagram (above) addressing the exact concern with the issue. McNutt wrote on the Instagram post:
I want to begin with a clear statement:
None of us involved that day wish to slander or damage the reputation of Pieps or Black Diamond. Both brands produce many good products, and our goal was to come to an agreeable solution so this couldn’t happen to anyone else. We tried explaining our very real concerns, and they responded by stating these devices pass all tests, putting some used devices back into the lab to ensure that. All of the models aside from the DSP offered by Pieps, as well as all of the BD devices DO NOT share this concern.
Now the issue:
Sure, the DSP models pass all of the tests. All beacons on the market today pass these tests.
Most of the language in the ETSI document which states the standards to be met involve things like signal specifics, weather and impact resistance, and battery life. There are only a couple of sentences surrounding the switch that this device must comply with:
Under “4.3.1 Operational Requirements”, the transceiver needs to have:
“-a control unit including an on/off switch with a visual indication that the equipment is switched on”
“4.3.2 Maintaining the transmit mode
-A safety feature against involuntary or accidental leaving of the transmit mode shall be provided in the equipment.”
I feel the bar is way too low surrounding switch design. It’s up to each brand to decide how to make their device change modes, and although none are perfect, this one failed in the single instance I needed it to work. There’s many varied examples of the DSP switches being easily moved while “locked”, including when stowed in the provided harness… It can apply a small amount of pressure on the “lock” tab, which often needs terrifyingly little pressure to disengage.
The response (or lack thereof) leaves us concerned for the safety of backcountry users, and after I nearly lost my life, it’s so frustrating to know that this can still happen to someone else. Please inspect your equipment, and please consider upgrading from this model by contacting the manufacturer or buying elsewhere.
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1/6: The Accident March 9th, 2020. It started with a clear, dark sky, and plans to ski lines on a beautiful peak north of Pemberton with @tetongravity and and all-star crew of @ianmcintosh, @christinalusti , and @samsmoothy . As always, while getting our things ready at the trailhead, our group did our daily avalanche transceiver check to ensure we were all beeping, and on this particular day it was done by one of our cinematographers @aronasaurus1. We finished loading our sleds up with ski gear, camera equipment, and extra provisions including first aid supplies, communication devices and warm layers. These would prove to be worth their weight in gold that day. After riding our sleds to the treeline, our crew split up and set off to our respective missions. Christina and I hiked together up one side of the face, while Mac and Smoothy hiked the other side, and @bdanncreative, Aaron and @eparkerphoto_ tried to keep themselves comfortable in the morning shade at their chosen camera angles. We all skied our runs safely, conditions were ideal, and we regrouped back at our snowmobiles. The other skiers in the group being content on successfully skiing the day’s objective, they opted to enjoy the sun and have lunch while I decided to seize the opportunity to ski some beautiful pillows right at treeline above a lake. My first line went off exactly as I planned, with minimal, light slough and perfect snow for lines like these. Excited, I quickly skinned back up for another lap on a parallel line. This time, though, my luck turned. The light slough was the tipping point for a pillow the size of a sedan which had spent the winter clinging to the side of a cliff. It trundled off into the gulley below my line, which I wasn’t able to see until my final air. From my perspective, I launched the last drop into what looked like the expected powder cloud but was rudely met with cascading blocks of hard debris that re-directed me straight into a stand of mature trees. My immediate reaction was to get my arm up in front of my face, and instantly was strained through a tree and stuffed head first into the snow below. Silence and darkness followed… *link in bio*