Photo: Scott Rinckenberger

This program is not designed, managed, or monitored by the Northwest Avalanche Center forecasters and staff.

Program Development

The following radio program is a community-driven initiative intended to facilitate party-to-party communication in the backcountry.

This program is NOT designed, managed, or monitored by the Northwest Avalanche Center forecasters and staff.

The following purpose and protocols have been provided by SPART to facilitate a structured approach for groups to communicate with other parties during a day in the backcountry. Please direct all comments and questions to


Backcountry usage is rapidly increasing which is leading to a greater concentration of recreationists in popular zones. There have been several close calls involving multiple parties skiing on top of each other or descending complex terrain while other users are ascending. Communication about intent and location between groups may reduce the potential for accidents.

By using pre-defined FRS radio channels to communicate at appropriate times, groups can enhance safe travel in backcountry terrain. Groups can communicate when entering in, travelling through, and exiting potentially exposed terrain. Additionally, groups will be able to share critical safety information such as avalanches, hazards, incidents, and so on to others in the area. These radio channels are not to be used in the case of an emergency. Please call 911 directly if you need rescue.

To be most effective, communication needs to be clear and concise. For most normal ‘within the group’ communication, it is recommended to use a second channel. This will reduce the amount of traffic on the group-to-group channels to the minimum needed for safe travel.

Intended Uses & Radio Protocols:

Communication between multiple groups:

  • When your group is about to enter complex terrain
  • Information regarding potential hazards or critical snow & avalanche information
  • When your group is clear of a given line or area, alerting other groups of a clear run-out zone

Other uses:

  • Send a distress call for assistance in case of an accident
  • Request another group to call 911 or mount an organized rescue if 911 can’t be reached directly
  • Communication between partners as they travel in complex terrain (example, between zones of relative safety)

Note: The radio channel notation of “7-3” refers to FRS radio channel 7 and code or tone 3.

Due to the range of the radios and the size of the area, a multiple channel strategy was chosen to limit radio chatter and concentrate communication to all groups in the relevant drainages/connected terrain. The locations for the channels and the landmarks were established based on input from SAR, local guides, and ski area officials.

These radio channels are not monitored by SAR or Ski Patrol and should not be relied upon to summon a rescue. If you need to call for help, call 911 if you have cell service. If you do not have cell service use an emergency beacon. If you do not have one, as a last resort, you may be able to use these channels to get to someone who has cell service to call 911 for you.

There are several commercially available FRS radios on the market. Simple FRS radios can be found online at reasonable prices and multiple manufacturers sell radios specifically designed for backcountry riding and snowmobiling. The channel and codes (tones) for this program adhere to the defined standards. To be effective in group-to-group communication, you should check that your particular radio adheres to the standards. If it doesn’t then you will need to program it accordingly. Check out this link for frequency and code details.

This program was inspired by a similar program originating in Telluride, CO. The organization of this program has been done by SPART, a member unit of King County SAR, with input from the community. NWAC has agreed to help promote this program in the interest of public safety. The SAR community hopes to reduce accidents and send resources more efficiently when accidents do occur. Please reach out to if you have any suggestions on how to improve this program or would like to bring this program to another area. SPART would love to support the expansion of community radio use in the backcountry and has built out all of the necessary materials which can easily be replicated.

The backcountry radio program is a community driven initiative. It is not monitored or policed. Radios are not required in the backcountry, however, group-to-group incidents may be reduced when all groups have and use radios.

Good Reads:

Backcountry Radios ISSW Paper
How to change presets on BCA backcountry radios

If you have feedback on the backcountry radio program at Snoqualmie Pass, please email

Snoqualmie Pass Zone