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The Telluride Backcountry Radio Program

The Telluride Backcountry Radio Program was initially launched during the 2014-2015 winter season in an effort to aid in the safety of backcountry users in Bear Creek. The program was initiated and launched  by Matt Steen (PI Fund Board Member and Helitrax Snow Safety Supervisor) in conjunction with the Telluride Mountain Club. Matt wrote a paper on the program for the 2016 International Snow Science Workshop in Breckenridge, alongside Bruce Edgerly of Backcountry Access. The original 2016 program designated the 6 preset channels on BCA Link Radios to 5 different terrain areas surrounding Telluride, allowing backcountry users to have a “common channel” to communicate on. Over the years, the program has become widely embraced by the local backcountry community, and transmitting on the common channel has been credited for literally saving lives. In several noteworthy avalanche incidents, inter-group communication on the common channel has allowed the party involved to call for help and get multiple parties in the area to respond and aid in the rescue. Since its inception, similar backcountry radio programs have been created in other high-use backcountry areas, like Washington’s Snoqualmie Pass and Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.

In 2023, the Peter Inglis Avalanche Education Fund surveyed the backcountry community and worked closely with local entities to identify the program’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. After careful consideration of community feedback, the PI Fund unveiled the new suggested channels in December, 2023. Below you will find information on the current radio channels for specific backcountry zones in the east end of San Miguel County.

Please note, transmitting on these channels will only help you communicate to anyone else who is in your vicinity AND also on the same channel. If you are involved in an incident and need a rescue from outsides sources, first try calling for help on your radio, THEN call or text 911, THEN try to utilize SOS on a satellite communication device, like a Garmin inReach. You should not rely solely on using your radio to call for a rescue in the backcountry.

In 2023, the Colorado Search and Rescue Association designated FRS 3.o as the state-wide Search and Rescue Channel, to be used during an emergency for communication between the injured party and the Search and Rescue team. To be clear, channel 3.0 is not monitored by teams, it is simply a channel on which a backcountry recreationalist, who has already placed a 911 call, might be able to communicate with a team as they are responding.  To learn more about this effort, read the position paper here: FRS RADIO USE FOR BACKCOUNTRY SAR – POSITION PAPER






We updated the Telluride Radio Program to adapt to increased radio usage amongst our backcountry community and increased traffic in some of our local backcountry areas. The program is most effective if every backcountry user recreating in one of the “zones” uses the designated channel for that zone. If we’re all on the same channel and in the same terrain, we can more effectively communicate between groups and seek help from others in the case of an emergency.

Radio Program Overview:

  • We divided the East End of San Miguel County into three major zones:
    • North: Telluride
    • Central: Ophir
    • South: Lizard Head Pass
  • Each of these major zones was assigned an open channel (1:0, 2:0, 4:0)
    • To monitor all the radio traffic in a major zone, simply listen to the open channel (with no privacy code applied)
  • Within these major zones, we created minor zones based off the terrain, which are distinguished with a privacy code:
    • To communicate within a minor zone, simply add the designated privacy code for that area:
      • Lower Bear Creek: 1:1
      • Upper Bear Creek: 1:2
      • Wasatch and La Junta Mountains: 1:3
      • Alta Lakes: 1:4
      • Waterfall Canyon: 2:1
      • Swamp Canyon: 2:2
      • Opus Hut Area: 2:3
      • Lizard Head Pass: 4:1
  • *Tuning in to the open channel (1:0, 2:0, 4:0) will allow you to HEAR all the chatter going on in that area, including transmissions by users who are transmitting with a privacy code applied. Unfortunately, if you are on the open channel, you cannot TRANSMIT to anyone who is using a privacy code on that channel. To communicate to another group, you must be using the same privacy code for them to hear you.
  • In backcountry areas that do not have a designated channel (Rico, the Wilson Group, etc), we suggest using the “Other” Channel 5:1 to increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to communicate with other groups in the vicinity.

Intended Uses & Radio Protocols:

Radios are critical communication tools in hazardous areas, such as avalanche terrain. We view backcountry radio usage as a form of risk management for backcountry travelers and, as such, encourage you to use radios for the following purposes:

  • To communicate with people within your party.
  • To communicate with other parties in your vicinity. 
  • To announce your “drop in” and find out if other parties are in terrain below you.
  • To announce your “all clear” when you are exiting a specific line or piece of terrain.
  • To alert your group and other groups about hazards, such as changing conditions or avalanches. 
  • To send a distress call to your group and other parties to aid in self rescue.
  • To ask for someone to call 911 to mount an organized rescue, when 911 can’t be reached directly on your own.

The program is most effective when everyone is on the same channel and in the same terrain. With that in mind, we ask that backcountry radio users practice good radio etiquette and minimize unnecessary “chatter” at all costs.

Too much chatter means that other users will switch channels, and the program’s benefits will be lost. 

How we recommend using radios on a day in the Telluride backcountry: 

  • Ensure everyone within your group knows what channel to be on for the area you’re traveling in.
  • Complete a “radio check” at the trailhead to ensure that everyone can hear and speak to each other.
  • Monitor the designated channel for your area as your skinning/approaching your objective.
  • Listen for other groups who are on the same channel, they are likely in your vicinity. If deemed necessary, communicate to the other group(s) and let them know you’re in the area and where you plan on traveling.
  • Before descending, announce your “drop in” to ensure no other groups are below you in the terrain.
    • Example: “Party of 3 about to drop in to Reggae, anybody down there?” 
  • Communicate with your partners on the descent to identify safe re-grouping sites.
    • Example: “Chris to Heidi, okay, I pulled out in the trees on the right side of the bench, come meet me here, over”
  • Communicate with your partners about potential hazards on the descent.
    • Example: “Chris to Matt, hey there is a steep convex rollover on the skier’s right side that we should avoid, make sure you stay to the left of my track, over”
  • In the case of an avalanche, use your radio to alert other members of your group, and other groups in the area.
    • Example: “SLIDE SLIDE SLIDE! Keep eyes on them! One person caught and carried in Reggae! Beginning rescue!”
  • If your group needs help from others, use your radio to call for help on the designated channel.
    • Example: “We’ve got an avalanche in Reggae, on person is buried, requesting all groups in the area to come help!”
  • After descending your line, communicate the “all clear” to other groups in your area before you leave the area.
    • Example: “Party of 3, all clear from Reggae, over”
  • Continue to monitor the channel for the area you’re traveling in until you arrive back at the trailhead. You never know when someone out there might need your help and even back at the trailhead, you may be the closest source of help.

As a member of the Telluride backcountry community, we ask that you take backcountry radio use seriously. Since its inception, the use of this program has prevented incidents and saved lives in our local backcountry, but we need your help for it to continue to be successful. Spread the word about the program to your touring partners and others within our backcountry community and please use your radio responsibly when traveling in the designated zones. Thank you! 

Backcountry Access radios are available for purchase at Jagged Edge Mountain Gear in Telluride. Telluride Mountain Club members receive a 30% discount on the radios. Become a member here. Backcountry Access radios are also available for rent at Jagged Edge Mountain Gear, free of charge thanks to the Peter Inglis Avalanche Education Fund. Read more here.

Additional Literature on the Telluride Radio Program and Radio Protocols: 

Backcountry Radios ISSW Paper
How to change presets on BCA backcountry radios

If you have feedback on the backcountry radio program in Telluride, please email piavalanchefund@gmail.com.

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Telluride Mountain Club advocates for safe, accessible, enjoyable and respectful opportunities for human-powered recreational activities in the Telluride region, through education, awareness and collaboration.

Telluride Mountain Club is a 501c3 nonprofit organization.