Two Way Radios have finally gotten more popular with skiers both resort skiers and backcountry skiers. Communication is important in the backcountry especially during certain situations: skiing with a large hut tour group that is strung out over a mile, skiing with more than two people in avalanche terrain where visual and audio contact may be impossible due to thick trees or heavy clouds. Radios have been shown to be an important safety tool during an avalanche accidents in the outback. Their absence can mean the lack of critical information for skiers who have yet to ski a avalanche prone slope which could be given by skiers who already have made it down. Those at the bottom can warn skiers to avoid a particular slope if they think can avalanche. This information can literally mean the difference between life and death.
Portable radios have been around for sportsmen for a long time. There are many models to choose from include “water resistant” and “water proof” ones that hunters and boaters will like. Those descriptions are always held to suspect so always read the latest reviews of new radios on the internet. One of the most time tested personnel radios has been the Motorola radios. These types of radios weigh about 6.4 oz having dimensions: 1.5 in x 2.4 in x 8.4 in. (Motorola MS350). The wattage rating, usually about 0.5 watts power may not help in distance but it will help in clarity. At least 22 channels are a must for best reception around other peoples transmissions in the area. Technically, the first seven channels (using 0.5 watts) are considered “FRS” or family radio frequencies while the remaining 15 channels have a higher output of 2 amps for “General Mobile Radio Service requiring a license of $80 for use. A range of “35 miles” only applies if there are repeater stations in the area. The real local working range is really. 5 to 1 mile depending on tree cover and cloud thickness. The FRS channels are sufficient for most outdoor use.radio strap
So you don’t have to dig into your coat all the time, consider a remote speaker mic that is attached to your backpack’s shoulder or sternum strap. Tips: A light layer of vaseline on the battery case rubber gasket makes for a better seal and longer life for the rubber. Tape the mic cord directly into your radio so it doesn’t get pulled out by mistake. Battery time is a function of battery type: 27 hours for 3 AA batteries versus 9 hours for NiMH rechargeable batteries. Better reception occurs if you move around a bit to get around a tree or just get a better vector on the incoming radio transmissions going on around you. It also helps if the radios antennas are in the same orientation (usually vertical).
Since we are talking about radios-what about Satellite Radios? They are expensive but you can rent them on-line. They work best when the sky is clear. They weigh about 1.5 lb. (Iridium Motorola 9500). I rented one for a trip on the Continental Divide and was very surprised when I tried to make a call from my tent during a rain storm. It couldn’t get through. Satellite phones usually use NiMH battery packs that have to be charged at home instead of AA batteries most radios use. Shelf life is best when the batteries are charged up to 60%. Manufacturers recommend recharging the batteries at least once a month. Batteries usually have a talk time of 3 hours. If you are out for an extended period that battery may loose its charge. So satellite phones are great when they work but not so great when they don’t.