Photo: Scott Rinckenberger

Purpose

The overall goal is to enable groups to enhance safe travel in backcountry terrain by communicating at appropriate times using predefined FRS radio channels.  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 using 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 to mount an organized rescue if 911 can’t be reached directly 
  • Communication between partners as they travel in complex (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.

FAQs:

Q: Why do you consider this project necessary?

A: The backcountry usage is rapidly increasing leading to a great concentration of recreationalists in popular zones.  There have been several close calls including multiple parties skiing on top of each other or descending complex terrain while other users are ascending.  Communication about intent and location between groups will reduce the potential for accidents.

Q: Why is there more than one channel?  

A: There are multiple channels 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 input from SAR, local guides, and ski area officials.

Q: Can I use these radio channels to request emergency services if I get hurt?

A: No. If you have cell service call 911. If you do not have cell service, you may be able to use these channels to get to someone who has cell service to call 911 for you.

Q: Are the ski areas monitoring these channels?

A: It is possible that ski area personnel may be monitoring these channels.  Remember that this is a community effort to improve safety in the backcountry, so ski patrol may or may not respond.  Always contact emergency services directly if needed.

Q: What kind of radio do I have to buy?

A: Any FRS and/or FRS/GMRS radio will work. Simple FRS radios can be found online at reasonable prices. BCA sells radios specifically designed for backcountry skiing and snowmobiling.

Q: Is it possible to borrow a radio?

A: We are working with local retailers to create a low-cost rental program but the program is not yet in place.

Q: What does 2-7, 3-7, and 6-7 mean?

A: The first number is the radio channel, the second number is the privacy code/tone.  You can program your particular radio to use these channel and code/tone options.  For example, there is a link on how to program BCA radio presets below.

Q: Are the channels and codes the same across all radios?

A: Not necessarily.  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… https://wiki.radioreference.com/index.php/Family_Radio_Service

Q: Who put this program together?

A: It was inspired by a similar program originating in Telluride CO. The organization of this program has been done by SPART (www.kcspart.org / a member unit of King County SAR) with input from the community. NWAC has agreed to help promote this program in the interests of public safety. The SAR community hopes to reduce accidents and when/if they do occur send resources more efficiently.

Q: I have some ideas on how to make this better, who do I talk to?

A: Reach out to bc_radio@kcspart.org

Q: Are radios now required?

A: No.  This is an opt-in program.  Group to group incidents will be reduced when all groups have and use radios, but no one will be enforcing this.

Q: What happens if my radio doesn’t support codes/tones?

A: You will be able to hear other groups, but not communicate with them.  It will probably be worth it to get one radio that supports code/tones (technically known as CTCSS frequencies)

Q: This is an awesome idea, I want to bring it to my local area. What should I do?

A: Contact us at president@kcspart.org. If you think this will be useful for your area we would be happy to support you in that effort. We built this material to be easily portable and reusable.

Tips on radio communication from BCA:

General two-way radio communication protocols:

When talking on two-way radios, the following protocols will ensure your team members have the best chance of effective emergency and non-emergency communications.

  • Remember that everything you say is public.
  • Think of what you want to say BEFORE using the radio.
  • Hold the transmit button down for one second before speaking into the mic.
  • Speak clearly and be brief.
  • NEVER transmit anything to a moving skier/boarder/snowmobiler UNLESS it is an emergency! “STEVE…AVALANCHE…GO RIGHT, GO RIGHT!!!!”
  • The single exception to never transmitting to a moving skier/boarder/snowmobiler is when the person in motion has pre-arranged with another party member to help guide him on his line. Use ONE party member for guiding by radio ONLY! “Karen…traverse right, rocks below” or “Karen…traverse left for the best snow”
  • When giving directions like this, always state where TO go, not where NOT to go.
  • Keep your mouth one to two inches away from the mic. Holding your mouth against the mic often results in distorted or garbled communications. Try speaking across the mic (at 90 degrees) if your communications are garbled.
  • Slow down your speech and talk in a steady voice. In a stressful situations most people tend to talk too fast. Think first, then talk.
  • Clearly identify the intended recipient to get their attention, identify yourself. Then wait for their response so you know they are listening.“Jane, this is Dan”………“Dan, go for Jane”
  • If due to an emergency you need to interrupt general communications, use the word “break.” “BREAK, BREAK, BREAK…AVALANCHE! All eyes on slope!!!” The word, “break,” is sometimes also used to separate portions of a very long message.
  • When you finish communicating a message, say “over” to let the group know you are done. “Dave to the whole crew, The avalanche has stopped, I have a last scene point, standby…over.” If your radio sends and automatic “Roger beep” at the end of each transmission, this may be unnecessary.
  • When you receive a message AND understand it, reply with ‘Roger’ and repeat the key points to ensure your message was heard correctly. “Roger Dave, this is Kim…the avalanche has stopped, you have a last seen points, standing by for further instructions.”
  • If you do not understand a message, ask for it to be repeated. “Dave this is Bob…please say again!…over”
  • To keep communications to a minimum, it is sometimes best to confirm a message by saying “copy.” “Jane, this is Scott…copy.”
  • Use the term “relay” when you are transferring a message through someone.
  • Typically it is best not to relay UNLESS you are asked to. “Dan, this Jane…relay to “Scott…victim is conscious and has a broken leg…over.” (in this example Scott may be at a position where he has cell phone service to a search-and-rescue team.)
  • Constantly monitor how effective communications are. Do not speak if it does not add new information. Try not to talk over other users; be patient and wait to transmit.
  • Watch your language: profanity is not only illegal, but may be offensive to other users.

Good Reads:

THE RIGHT FREQUENCY: HOW RADIOS SAVE LIVES IN TELLURIDE
Backcountry Radios ISSW Paper
ROGER THAT! “SARGE” CONWAY ON BACKCOUNTRY TWO-WAY RADIO PROTOCOLS
How to change presets on BCA backcountry radios

If you have feedback on the backcountry radio program at Snoqualmie Pass, please email president@kcspart.org.

Snoqualmie Pass Zone