The RECCO® reflector is permanently affixed to skiers and snowboarders while they are recreating in the mountains. The small piece weighs less than four grams and is designed into commercially available outerwear, helmets, boots and protection gear. This ensures the reflector won't be left in the car, stashed mistakenly in the lodge or forgotten at home. It is a non-powered device, meaning it never needs to be switched on, will never loose signal strength and needs no batteries to function. It requires no maintenance and has a virtually unlimited lifespan.
The actual component is a small electronic transponder with a copper aerial and a diode. Similar to a thin, printed circuit card and surrounded by protective weatherproof plastic, it is factory mounted to the exterior of gear that is unlikely to be torn off in the event of an avalanche. The reflector is engineered to sit slightly raised from the body and is placed in a specific external configuration for optimal reflection in the event of a burial.
The two-part technology operates on the frequency-doubling principle. The RECCO reflector bounces back the directional radar signal to the searcher and doubles the frequency, allowing the operator of the RECCO detector to actually hear where the burial is located. This enables rapid pinpointing of the signal and tracks searchers on a direct path to the burial. The reflectors are most effective when worn on a helmet or in pairs–pant and jacket or left and right boot–due to the unpredictable orientation of avalanche burials.
Unlike operating a transceiver, which requires education and practice, there is no learning curve for use of the RECCO reflector. It is integrated into commercially available gear by the manufacturer and therefore requires no additional investment by the on-hill user. The reflector can be washed without damage and will not interfere with any electronic device since it does not transmit any sort of signal. And, with only a passive role to play in the rescue, the RECCO reflector does not compete with other search methods and therefore functions as an effective complement to–but not a replacement for–wearing a transceiver. RECCO reflectors do not prevent avalanches nor do they guarantee location or survival in the event of a burial, but they do provide one more chance for skiers and snowboarders to be found quickly by organized rescue.