Two Way Radios-Long Answer
I've read many of the radio threads. I'm a dad with two kids and mom to keep track of, and this year, we used GMRS radios for this.
I'm also a ham radio operator, K2FIX, so here we have an intersection of hobbies. Based upon significant experience with UHF/VHF here's the deal.
For the normal skier, you will see FRS and GMRS radios. Both are in the UHF band, (@ 462 Mhz) not the best choice for outdoor use in this situation. Trees will attenuate UHF more than VHF. The Ski patrol and the ski area use VHF, normally in the 150-155 Mhz range with five watts. VHF signals will bend a bit more. Still the FCC has allowed "us" GMRS and FRS, so that's what most users will see in the store. The radios are all built to the same power and frequency specification, but the receivers will vary widely based on price-and you do get what you pay for (or don't).
Ignore FRS only radios-while power is not hugely important at these frequencies, GMRS will allow 1.5 watts, and FRS is limited to .5 watts. You will need to buy a GMRS licence, but in my experience this requirement is mostly honored in the breach. Better to spend the $75 at the FCC and be legal. Line of sight and height are key at UHF, so you'll do better getting your status reports on the lift or at the top of the hill, not while in a gully or behind a ridge. The "range" claims on the box are only valid over salt water or if one of you is at the top of a hill with an unobstructed line of sight to the lodge. You won't see this range-it is marketing hype.
GMRS/FRS radios are OK, just realize that you'll only get .5 watts on the FRS channels.
You will want to spend the extra money (trust me) for the "privacy codes". They don't do anything for privacy of your comms, others can still hear you call for mom or whine that the lift line is too long, but will allow your radio to ignore other users on the same channel (and in most areas there WILL be), and only open up for your party's radios. Be warned that not all privacy codes are the same between brands of bubble pack radios...your PL #3 might be your buddy's PL #10, but the actual codes (subaudible tones) themselves are usually the same, and you can figure out the interoperability sitting in the lodge-just match channels and move the PL on one radio until it breaks squelch on the other. The PL feature will also filter out adjacent users, and if you are like me, one or most of your party will not be tech-y and not want to figure anything out, or hear any interference..this keeps them from shutting the gadget off when they hear chatter from "others" and defeating the whole purpose.
You will also want to buy good stuff...so the $15 walmart cheapies are out. This is safety equipment also, not just when to meet for a beer. Avoid any radio that uses AAA batteries-they just don't last and will fail when you need them most. A typical ski day is a $300 bill for a family, so view your purchase as buying equipment, not toys. It is also worth the money for a Nicad and Charger set. Prices have dropped a lot, so it won't be too expensive even for the good stuff.
A GMRS setup with PL tones using top line radios will work most of the time, for most users, keeping in mind height is key.
Still, realizing that what a reader on this board can afford varies widely, this is the BMW/Infiniti approach....
The FCC has also allowed five channels in MURS, the "Mobile Users Radio Service". These are VHF, like the ski patrol, and you get two watts. Accessing this band is a bit tougher, though, as the FCC has made sure that "bubble pack" radios do NOT contain MURS channels. You cannot buy an FRS/MURS/GMRS radio. In order to do this, you would need to go to a mobile radio supplier (in the phone book) who normally sells to business/police/fire users, and ask him to set up MURS radios. The Motorolas or Kenwoods or Standards he sells will not be cheap, but will be indestructable, and with PL tones, you will never hear another user. You will be buying bottom line business band/professional stuff, so expect $300-$500 per radio. If this is not an obstacle for you, it is the gold plated legal solution. Don't ask for any non MURS channels-these sellers are licenced and will refuse. The radios will need to be programmed by a dealer, so ebay or the net might not work. You will have equivalent radios to the ski patrol, though.
Don't use marine band radios-away from the water, like most ski hills, the marine channels are re-allocated to other uses, like the police department. While the FCC does NOT care about CB radio, rest assured they DO care about outband use on public safety frequencies and the fines are huge. Likewise, Marine band is monitored by the Coast Guard-which also "guards" the Marine band. This especially would apply to an "ebay" radio with unknown channels programmed into it.
Lastly, if you are technically inclined, there is one other option. Check www.arrl.org
, and study for the "Technician" amateur radio licence. It's not too tough, as there are multiple online study guides, a one time multiple choice exam, and there is no Morse Code required. This will allow you to use the ham radio 2 meter band (right next door to the MURS band), with self programmable radios in the $150.00 range. These radios will have up to five watts, and you'll probably never hear another user unless you want to. You will have to take a test, and each user will have to have a licence, but it is by far the best bang for the buck if you are willing to study. It will also open up a new world of radio and communications for you. Most ham rigs can scan (but not transmit) ski patrol and ski area ops, so they are also useful for learning why the lift has stopped, or fun to hear the area bust out of bounds morons in avalanche areas.