Backcountry Radio

In Case of Emergency, Dial 911

Backcountry Radio Channels


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

Using pre-defined Family Radio Service (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. They can 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. Call 911 directly if you need aid or rescue.

Effective communication needs to be clear and concise. For most normal within-the- group conversation, use a second channel. This will keep traffic on the group-to-group channels to a minimum needed for safe travel.

Program Development

The use of Family Radio Service (FRS) radios is a community-driven initiative intended to facilitate party-to-party communication in the backcountry.

The purpose and protocols have been provided by the King County Ski Patrol Rescue Team (SPART) to provide a structured approach for groups to communicate with other parties while recreating in the backcountry. Please direct all comments and questions to

Intended Uses & Radio Protocols

Communication between multiple groups:

  • Announce when your group is about to enter complex terrain
  • Relay information regarding potential hazards or critical snow and avalanche conditions
  • Report 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 call 911 or mount an organized rescue if 911 can’t be reached directly
  • Communicate 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 or connected terrain. The locations for the channels and the landmarks were established based on input from search and rescue (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 or satellite-linked device. 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; multiple manufacturers sell radios 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, you will need to program it accordingly. Check out this link for frequency and code details.

A similar, well-used program in Telluride, Colorado inspired SPART members to launch backcountry radio for the Snoqualmie Pass area. SPART, a member unit of King County SAR organized the program with input from the community. The Northwest Avalanche Center helps promote the program in the interest of public safety. The SAR community hopes to reduce accidents and dispatch resources more efficiently when accidents do occur. Please reach out to with suggestions on how to improve this program or if you would like to bring this program to another area. SPART supports the expansion of community radio use in the backcountry and has built out the necessary materials that 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.