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Backcountry Communications

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 

Hey Everyone,

 

I'm new to this forum but was wondering what you use to stay in touch with your group when in the backcountry?

Have tried walkie talkies but recently came across both Gotenna (www.gotenna.com) and Beartooth (www.beartooth.com) -

Which look pretty sweet - can use your cell phone with both.

 

Anyone have any experience with these? Or tried this in comparison to devices like the Garmin Rino?? Other devices you would recommend?

 

Any info appreciated as all are an investment. 

post #2 of 14

FWIW: don't split the group up; stay within sight of each other.  If there is an emergency, the person in need may not be able to use a telephone or radio.  Most places I ski, smart phones don't work and radios (even the ones I use on ski patrol) are iffy.  At our favoriet lift-served ski area, cell phones work much better than radios both on the groomed runs and sidecountry.  FRS radios just don't work there given the terrain and changes in aspect.

post #3 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Carey View Post
 

FWIW: don't split the group up; stay within sight of each other.  If there is an emergency, the person in need may not be able to use a telephone or radio.  Most places I ski, smart phones don't work and radios (even the ones I use on ski patrol) are iffy.  At our favoriet lift-served ski area, cell phones work much better than radios both on the groomed runs and sidecountry.  FRS radios just don't work there given the terrain and changes in aspect.

 

Generally agree with these points, but doesn't take into account difference in local reality. Out in the Cascades, it's probably a lot easier to keep your group in sight of each other with above treeline skiing, and wider spaced trees. If you're skiing BC in the dense New England woods, it is literally impossible to keep your group in sight at all times, since in many situations there is so little room that you can't have your buddy in sight and still have the space to ski. I ski with a group of 9 or 10 kids every weekend, and we spend most of our time off trail, weather permitting. We often get separated because the off piste areas we are skiing are a veritable spiderweb of lines that go through dense conifer stands. You can only see a turn or two ahead of you, and the lines are so narrow that you can't stay a within a turn or two of anyone or else you run the risk of collision. Now, my group always stays inbounds, and we know the woods and the mountain very well, so when we get separated, we all know the next rally point and what to do. 

 

In any case, on to the actual topic. I would never rely on a phone app to keep me connected to my team in the backcountry. I typically use a GMRS radio with at least a 5 watt transmitter. The Garmin Rino has a 5 watt transmitter, but you can get the same power transmitter in just a radio for much less money. Like about $100 for a pair. 

 

That being said, if you have a ridge line between you and the other radio, it hardly matters how many watts you're blasting. You can't transmit through solid rock. So everybody should be as prepared as possible. 

post #4 of 14


^^^This. It sounds very interesting to use for "convenience communication" off grid, but I would use a radio if I wanted reliable comms.

post #5 of 14

Depends on why you want communications. Many setups are good enough to discuss lunch plans or cracking wise about the last stretch of down.

 

For even elementary safety, though, I'll consider radios expensive adult toys and side with Andy Carey about staying in visual contact. Yep even in the NE woods where I ski also. If it's a group inbounds, then sure, there are usually established lines everyone follows until things open up enough to just track each other visually. Shouting every so often is not a bad idea idea either, for giving your companions a general fix, as is stopping periodically as a group to discuss the next lines. But IME, real backcountry skiing in the trees is a lot more like cross country with a pack than what the movies show with their hours of site exploration to show the pros blasting through perfect pillows and richocheting off trees, then opening up onto endless perfect powder. Woods are slow, with maybe a small glade or 100 yard straight shot to reward an hour of getting there. If you have any bases left. Very cool but a different sport when you don't have an advance crew scouting out where you'll be skiing, or take several patient exploratory runs yourself first. 

 

Similar story in backcountry faces and bowls; if you haven't skied it recently, your life may depend on skiing thoughtfully and stopping to inspect. As a group. No need for phones, since everyone should be looking at everyone else. Hopefully while a few of you test the snow. 

 

Bad weather presents a countercase; if it's suddenly a whiteout, radios can be helpful. 

 

But look at it this way, whiteout or not: If someone is out of sight, they may be in trouble or dead even before you realize they're missing. Then, how long does someone have in a tree well, vs. how long does it take you to get your phone out, try a few times to reach them, then put the phone back, curse the bad reception or assume your companion is too lazy to respond, but start searching anyway? Can you do all that in 60 secs, find them in another 60, and dig them out in another 90? Or how exactly does having a phone help you find your buddy in an avalanche? A beacon, yes. A phone, unclear. Best prevention: Watch each other. Literally. That said, it's a good idea to carry a phone/radio, but not for what the OP suggests. Instead to call for help if you're lost, stranded in bad weather or the accident's already happened. And in that case, a satellite phone works better than any other, although there are some solid marine radios. Neither are cheap. 

post #6 of 14

IIRC, if you have the money, some of the Rhinos etc. have the ability to track your companions (assuming they all have them and that the radios are synched and that they are withing reception range); being able to track a companion and note when that person has stopped moving and determine their location is potentially very valuable.

post #7 of 14

I'm not familiar with these, but I'm a big fan of radios in the BC.   Even if you can see people, it doesn't mean you can communicate clearly.

post #8 of 14
In the backcountry, you all need to stay close together. Better carry more food than a radio
post #9 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by RJL276 View Post
 

.... recently came across both Gotenna (www.gotenna.com) and Beartooth (www.beartooth.com) -

Which look pretty sweet - can use your cell phone with both.

 

 

If you are in the real backcountry, your cell phone won't work. and then you will need a sat-phone / comms

 

Agree with Rod9301, carry more food.... or some refreshment  :D   and with the others... stick together.

post #10 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by Taxman View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by RJL276 View Post

 
.... recently came across both Gotenna (www.gotenna.com) and Beartooth (www.beartooth.com) -
Which look pretty sweet - can use your cell phone with both.

If you are in the real backcountry, your cell phone won't work. and then you will need a sat-phone / comms

Agree with Rod9301, carry more food.... or some refreshment  biggrin.gif    and with the others... stick together.

Actually, your cell phone works fine; it's the communication with the nearest cell tower that doesn't work. These devices take the place of the cell network. In essence you and your friends are creating your own private communication network. Take a look at the sites, it's pretty interesting. Does NOT, though, take the place of more appropriate comms, or more supplies, or whatever.
post #11 of 14

while it seems cool that it connects with your cellphone to do some of the lifting.  On the other hand this means that you have more points of failure and have to have 4 devices all working and not shut down esp. for cold weather battery issues.

 

If truly for skiing, I'd think you'd want to go for a more ruggedized single unit.   Perhaps for warmer weather pursuits these would be pretty cool things.  But especially if you just have an iphone and not a more rugged phone, say hello to a shutdown iphone screen.

post #12 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by H2OnSnow View Post
 


^^^This. It sounds very interesting to use for "convenience communication" off grid, but I would use a radio if I wanted reliable comms.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by raytseng View Post
 

while it seems cool that it connects with your cellphone to do some of the lifting.  On the other hand this means that you have more points of failure and have to have 4 devices all working and not shut down esp. for cold weather battery issues.

 

If truly for skiing, I'd think you'd want to go for a more ruggedized single unit.   Perhaps for warmer weather pursuits these would be pretty cool things.  But especially if you just have an iphone and not a more rugged phone, say hello to a shutdown iphone screen.

 

^Absolutely. Cell phones make a stupid choice for reliable communications...particularly in our winter world. Would this increase your options in the case of some emergency? Maybe. But, if you are after some real measure of safety them a cell phone based comm plan is not it.

post #13 of 14

Reading the discussion so far reminded me of an avalanche rescue from this season.  In this case, all three men were very experienced backcountry skiers and survived the incident.  Click here for the related EpicSki thread.

 

http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2016/feb/27/surviving-a-bad-break/

 

Below are excerpts related to electronic communications, but it's really worth reading the entire article:

 

"They were carrying iPhones, avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels plus extra food, water and clothing.el

Brede also had a GPS device and an ACR personal satellite emergency locator."

"To make things worse, the skiers noticed their iPhone batteries were dying quickly, possibly from a combination of the cold, poor connection and signal searching.

'We were lucky to get any calls out of there,' Brede said.

Dispatchers asked several times for coordinates off their iPhones instead of the GPS, which was giving a funky reading. “They said the GPS coordinates were indicating we were in Canada,” Brede said."

"Activation of the emergency satellite locator mayday signal was the key that launched the helicopter service"

"Kevin Davis of the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center, who said a full report of the accident has not been completed, credits the three skiers for their preparedness with training, trip planning and proper gear. “They needed all of that to have a good outcome,” he said. 'A lot of skiers and snowmobilers aren’t so prepared.'"

post #14 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by freeski919 View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy Carey View Post
 

FWIW: don't split the group up; stay within sight of each other.  If there is an emergency, the person in need may not be able to use a telephone or radio.  Most places I ski, smart phones don't work and radios (even the ones I use on ski patrol) are iffy.  At our favoriet lift-served ski area, cell phones work much better than radios both on the groomed runs and sidecountry.  FRS radios just don't work there given the terrain and changes in aspect.

 

Generally agree with these points, but doesn't take into account difference in local reality. Out in the Cascades, it's probably a lot easier to keep your group in sight of each other with above treeline skiing, and wider spaced trees. If you're skiing BC in the dense New England woods, it is literally impossible to keep your group in sight at all times, since in many situations there is so little room that you can't have your buddy in sight and still have the space to ski.

Reality isn't local. It is never impossible for people to stay in visual contact. The last person may not be able to see the first but each person MUST be able to see the person in front of them--otherwise one could easily pass an injured skier or one in a tree well.  In situations where visibility is an issue frequent stops to keep track of everyone are mandatory. In situations of very poor visibility--dense fog or white out--everyone needs to be able to see everyone else, even if this compromises the quality of the skiing. All of this is triply important with kids. If you feel you need technology to keep track of everyone you're doing it wrong. Seriously. And every skier in that kind of situation should have a whistle and there should be an agreed upon number of whistles if anyone loses sight of the person in front of them--at which point everyone stops and waits.

 

I was skiing with a guided group on the Mer de Glace --sunny day, flat terrain with excellent visibility--the last 3 skiers, who were much weaker than the rest of the group--fell so far behing that they managed to miss the exit from the glacier to the Montenvers tram and skied off down the glacier. Fortunately the guide was able to chase them down before they fell into a crevasse or skied past the last exit from the glacier--the bootpack up to the James Bond trail down to Chamonix--which must have been exhausting for them.  Obviously the guide should have done a better job keeping the group together. 

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