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  • Writer's pictureHenry Kvietok

Backcountry Buzz: Communication Devices

February 29th, 2024

© 2024 by Henry Kvietok


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I hope you're all having a blast this winter and staying safe out there!

For this month’s newsletter, I wanted to write about communication devices. Everyone has heard of "Beacon - Shovel - Probe" but I also like to include communication devices as an essential tool for traveling in the backcountry.


 

Radios

It may seem obvious but radios are nice to have even if you're not using them to communicate with other parties or find someone who's lost. In fact, at least 90% of the time I use my radio is communicating to my partners that I'm dropping in or ready to film a line.

 

As we get into couloir season, it's nice to be able to call back up to your partner to report that you're in a safe spot and let them know what snow conditions are like. The days of yelling back up to your group or giving a pole wave are long over.


I personally own a pair of Rocky Talkie Mountain Radios (affiliate link if you want to support my work!). These radios were designed and tested extensively in Colorado, and they are backed up with excellent customer service. They have really grown in the past few years and now it is quite common to see them out on the mountain. The primary reason that I went with these radios is that they have a no-fuss one-piece design. I want to be able to use my radios for summer activities, like rock climbing, and a two-piece design would have just been too clunky for my needs. My Rocky Talkie radios have really stood up well to my use and abuse this season. Looking forward to more tours with them!


Plus, some backcountry areas even have designated channels for different zones or types of communication. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with these channels before heading out! Here's info on channels across different states 

 

To the right is summary of some newer common channels for the Berthoud Pass and Jones Pass zones. For more info, and a full list of other Front Range channels and maps, go check out this site!





Satellite Devices


I carry a personal locator beacon (PLB, see left) in my pack whenever I am out recreating in the mountains - backcountry skiing or just out hiking. It is a handheld sized, one-way communication device so it does not allow you to message back and forth (like texting). Rather, when activated anywhere in the world it sends out an SOS signal which is routed to the nearest Search and Rescue organization. It operates via government funded satellites so there is no monthly fee to use these devices. When you purchase the device, you need to register it so that your information is on file. Overall, I found that this was an economical way to get an emergency device. For me, this is a last resort, life or death piece of equipment. I have never activated it and, knock on wood, hope that I never have to. But, it lives in my pack as an insurance policy.


Another option is to go with a two-way device like the Garmin InReach. One key difference between a device like this and the PLB above, is that it's a two-way device and there is a subscription fee in order to use it. With that comes the ability to send non-emergency updates, communicate with rescuers, get weather updates, and see maps. I do not own one (I did not need that many features and just wanted to pay once) but I have used them and they are pretty user friendly and durable.

 

No matter what kind of device you get, make sure that you familiarize yourself with how it works. Your touring partners should also know how to use it and know where it lives in your pack should there be an emergency and you are incapacitated.

 

 

I hope this is a good primer on communication devices for those of you that are looking to get into backcountry skiing more!

 

Before I go, Made Me Chuckle and Subscriber Stoke. Keep those photos coming in! I love to see what people are getting after.

 


Made Me Chuckle


Earlier this month, I met the mastermind behind @sonoran.avalanche.center, Dr. Len Necefer!












Subscriber Stoke

February 19th - Patrick getting the goods! Want to be featured? Email hkvietok@gmail.com or Instagram DM me a pic and the date it was taken.










 

As always, feel free to email hkvietok@gmail.com or DM me directly with feedback, questions, gear recommendation requests (what skis/boots/poles/skins should I buy?), newsletter sponsorship requests, or topics you'd like me to cover in future newsletters. Have a friend that's interested in backcountry skiing? Tell them to sign up here for future editions.

Ski on, and do your snow dances!

Best, Henry




Disclaimer: Recreating in the backcountry is inherently dangerous. It is the responsibility of all users to inform themselves of proper backcountry safety protocols, especially in regards to avalanche conditions. It is your responsibility to make your own decisions. I assume absolutely no liability or responsibility for the use of information provided here.


Affiliate Disclosure: There are product links here where I may earn a small commission from purchases made through those links (at no charge to you).


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