Backcountry Skiers need rec for legit 2-way radios

Hi everyone -

So my friends and I are avid skiers/outdoorsmen and we are looking for a set of radios for the backcountry. We’ve tried the nicest FRS/GMRS radios from REI and we were 300 yards away from each other, on opposie sides of a cliff, and couldn’t get each other. I promptly returned those pieces and started my online search.

We need something powerful. my end goal is to have something that can reach help in case one of us gets hurt or an avalance hits, or we get lost, or the millions of other things that can go wrong. We will probably be a few miles from a resort, with mountainous terrain and trees in between.

Can anyone provide some guidance on this? Personally, the RDX and RDV series motorolas look like exactly what we’re looking for but they need an FCC business liscense? I’m reading a lot and it sounds like “amateurs” can’t get the good radios but in a situation like ours, where it could mean the difference between life and death, is there be some sort of an exception?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!


encryption does not matter. price is secondary to function. I need to know that if “IT” hits the fan, i can get my buddy on the radio if i do NOT have line of sight, and that I can get onto a channel run by the local resort if there is a mountain in the way.

Does this exist?

I’ve read other people’s posts but the answers never fit my question perfectly.

Spend $10,000 if you like. You still won’t get non line of sight communications. It’s not going to happen.

To quote (I think) Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, ‘Captain, I canna change the laws of physics!’

‘Better’ radios won’t make that cliff any less imprenetrable to radio waves.

Nor is there any legal way to use ‘other’ people’s radio channels, like the ski resorts’ channels, etc. That’s called ‘operating without a license’, and it carries major penalties. (Not to mention they probably will refuse to talk to you, anyway.)

The only way to get ‘non line of sight’ coverage, is to MAKE it ‘line of sight’, by installing repeaters (maybe several), multiple receiver sites, etc, until the areas you want to talk between ARE in line of sight via the repeaters. This is not something you can plan to do on a ‘temporary’ basis.

All you can do is carry good cellphones (they usually have installed coverage around resorts, at least of the active areas), and if you feel spectacularly rich, buy a satellite phone (which is not small or light), and backpack that around. Use of satellites for phone comms is… not cheap per second.

i don’t mean this to sound sarcastic, but for units like the RDU4100 that advertise “can communicate through 20 floors of office buildings”, those don’t have line of sight? What makes them different.


‘Through buildings’ means ‘penetrate windows, doors, etc’. This works best with 900 MHz radios, somewhat well at 450 MHz, and very poorly at 154 MHz.

‘20 floors’ is still only maybe 300 feet… and it’s still marketinghype, there will be dead spots, unless the building was designed with internal ‘leaky coax’ antennas all through the building or the like.

Buildings and foliage weaken signals. Solid ground stops them.

how do military personnel communicate on the battlefield? What if there’s a rock in their way?

this just strikes me as SO odd that we can put a man on the moon, figure out how to harness wind for electricity, yet i can’t talk to my buddy 300 feet away with a rock in the middle.

Because putting a man on the moon, or harnessing wind for electricity or talking more than 300 feet with a rock in the middle - takes REAL TOOLS!! not bubble pack FRS radios, with lossy antennas and flea-power RF output. (I’m sorry, did I say that, out loud?)

Radio communications distance is a multivariabled function of frequency, power, propagation characteristics; VHF-low, VHF-High, UHF, 800, 900, 2.4 ghz, antenna system gain/loss, etc. etc.

The military communicates these days by installing a complete cellular system in the battlefield area.

Before they did that, they installed repeaters on hills, or, gee, who’d a’thunk of it, had someone else RELAY the message. They have lots of stations and operators. The military is perfectly happy to install temporary wireline connections over the ground, link radios to them on either end, and generally do a lot of work to get mostly (but never absolutely) complete communications.

Why, ignoring legalities, you probably COULD contact each other simplex… with a kilowatt of power or so. Umm, your eyeballs (and brains) would fry, and you’d have about a tenth of a second to ‘talk’ before your batteries died but gee, minor problems!

There are very weak reflections off hilltops, refraction over ridgelines, and other ways to ‘sneak’ signals around. All require much higher power than handheld batteries will give, and all require rather large directional gain antenna arrays to use, as well.

so if you were to recommend a radio that fit the “closest thing to what I’m looking for but isn’t what i’m looking for since it doesn’t exit” description, what would you recommend? :smiley:

The one you already had, and threw away.

Each skiier should carry:

  1. GMRS/FRS radio
  2. Cellphone
  3. GPS unit (Calling for help is massively aided if you can tell them EXACTLY where you are).

For personal use, it might be that MURS radios will work marginally better (VHF does better in trees), but if your aim is ‘get help’, GMRS is more likely to reach other skiiers also using it.

Be aware of how to change, or turn OFF, tone squelch on your radios so you can hear others, and get them to hear you.

Satellite phones are the only way I see that they can talk to each other on the opposite side of a hill. How bad do you want to talk?

It would be nice for once if someone, with the knowledge, would answer a question, with the information that is necessary, in a positive and helpful manner…Eric4867 this one is for you bud…

Now I’m assuming your in North America…if not look up the proper info on your countries rules and regulations for radio/GMRS. I am Canadian so most the information is pertinent to North America…

Being an avid outdoors man, with training in communications and a Radio-Telephony Operators Restricted Certificate and GMRS license holder…I can give you some tips on what we use on our ski expeditions…

Minus the condescending overtone, SkipSanders is mostly right…in what he sais;)

Start with these;

Lots of great info…and has the links to the FCC website so you can apply for your GRMS license…i got mine in 2008 and it cost me $85 for 5yrs, and it covers my whole family, your buddies will have to get their own…

Another good link…
Outlines the use of GRMS in North America…it’s best to stay off channels 462.650, 467.6500, 462.7000 and 467.7000 MHz near the Canadian/American border…

And another for extended explenation…

There is a work around for the licensing…if you purchase a product that is certified for GSRM specifically, you do not need a license to operate that device.(also outlined in the above article from the FCC website)

Your best bet is to purchase a single device that can give you the best chance for emergency communication…expanding on SkipSander’s list of what you should carry with you…

  1. being your tranceiver/beacon…with probe and shovel(you want your buddy to dig a whole where you are…not where he thinks you are…
  2. your cellphone…! it’s good practice to turn this thing off with a full charge until you need it…maybe a spare fully charged battery…
  3. A FRS/GMRS two way radio…now, for a little more money you can purchase a FRS/GMRS/GPS device…of which i highly suggest…you will have a moving map with your buddies devices being plotted as well as your own…this is especially helpful if you get seperated/lost…
  4. An emergency VHF handheld radio…a link with a little background on radio’s
    Now the goods on VHF…you do not need a license to carry and/or listen to a VHF radio…nor do you need a license to send a distress call on a SAR licensed channel(this includes all channels designated and licensed by the Ministries…However, you do need a license to perform standard, non emergency, transmissions with one…
    A link to Industry Canada’s website with more info on Canadian standards…
    and a link to your best friends in the world…
  5. Insurance…this is your second best friend…after they save your *****, they will give you a bill that looks similar to your second mortgage…
    6)Never travel alone…that includes getting seperated from your buddies…if seperation is necessary make sure you are at least in groups of two…that way if one of you do get hurt, the other may be able to get to higher ground and radio for help…

Hope this helps…


If you are looking for something to use in case of dire emergency, carry a “personal Locator Beacon” These are designed to send a distress call and locate the unit. The good ones use GPS, and should be registered (free) to provide best response. These can only be used in a true emergency.