The Most Influential Gear of All Time: Skadi Avalanche Transceiver


Patrollers called the first avy transceiver the “hot dog”

Patrollers called the first avy transceiver the “hot dog”     Photo: Courtesy of Don Bachman

The first electronic avalanche rescue beacon was a radio transceiver developed by a Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory research team headed by John Lawton. Previously, at least one American, an Englishman, and various Europeans had developed electromagnetic methods to locate avalanche victims, but their experiments and products lacked the range and accuracy needed to save lives. With a long-lasting battery, quartz frequency control, and a 90-foot range, the Skadi was significantly more accurate and reliable than its predecessors.

Ed Lachapelle inspired Lawton’s device, when, in the late 1960s, he built a small, pocket-sized radio transceiver that worked at the upper end of the broadcast band. His idea was to pick up that signal with a portable radio receiver using the receiver's loopstick antenna for directivity. After seeing Lachapelle’s creation, Lawton assembled a pair of units using an audio frequency induction field with a playing card-sized pocket transmitter and a plug-in antenna—a wire coil one foot in diameter that could be sewn into the back of a parka. In Lachapelle’s tests, Lawton’s device worked. The large coil antenna gave more range than the Skadi that came to market, but it was awkward to use and limited the user to the chosen parka. Lawton downsized the unit by replacing the parka antenna with a smaller antenna built into the handheld plastic box.

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