After a decade and a half of skiing in the backcountry, the most common phrase I’ve heard in the field is “we should have brought radios.” I know my partners have beacons, shovels, and probes, and based on our pre-tour talk they probably read the most recent avalanche forecast. But when we’re five miles from the trailhead and who knows how far from cell phone service, I seem to always find myself screaming into the wind about where to ski and where not to ski. It gets more annoying every time.
A few years ago, I would always bring a pair of radios—not made by BCA, for what it’s worth—to help prevent these pitfalls of communication in the backcountry. After a weekend in the Tetons, however, one of my radios stayed in my brother’s backpack and took an extended vacation in Montana for over a year, meaning it was back to the old method of hollering. When I finally got the radio back, the rechargeable battery barely worked, and when it was cold enough, it didn’t work at all.
I upgraded this season to the BCA Link 2.0 radios. Right off the bat, life became easier when ski touring. Partners could alert me to areas of thin coverage and buried rocks. I could let my partners know that I was in a safe zone at the bottom of a slope and they were free to ski. If another party ended up on our channel—who would have guessed 4-20 is so popular in Colorado?—the simple rotation of a dial took us to a different channel.
Experienced friends were always quick to point out some key upgrades on these radios compared to the BCA Link 1.0, as well. On the 2.0, the channel and volume dials are more protected and harder to accidentally rotate to a different frequency. The microphone housing is stronger and the beefed-up grill keeps snow out on a powder day. There is a metal screw that fastens the mic to the main radio body much more effectively. And the oversized push-to-talk button is way more friendly for gloves.
So far, I’ve tested the BCA Link 2.0 radios in Colorado’s Summit County and near the towns of Empire and Silverton. The SKI Magazine staff also used them while coordinating the annual SKI Test in Solitude, Utah.
Testing in the backcountry involved mostly line-of-site communication, and the BCA Link 2.0 radios performed flawlessly. They were especially handy when skiing a chute called “The Hourglass”: The safe zone at the bottom of the 700-foot vertical pitch is in some dense trees, so it can be hard to see when someone arrives there or is still in a dangerous zone, especially when skiing one-at-a-time. A brief check-in on the radio to confirm my partner was in the trees was way more assuring than the mental coin flip of “pretty sure she’s there, I guess I’ll just drop in now.”
At Solitude, the radios were tested for long days and over bigger ranges, which showed some potential shortfalls. While the 2 Watts of power is pretty great for big distances, any time a person used a radio in a different drainage than another person—coming out of Honeycomb Canyon on the Honeycomb Return chairlift trying to talk to someone at the base of the Apex Lift, for example—radio communications were limited at best.
Granted, in backcountry scenarios, most interparty communication is line-of-sight or very close, so these types of situations are rare, meaning an increase in power isn’t necessarily warranted. But, if an incident were to occur for one person skiing off of a summit and another person accidentally ending up on an opposite side, it could potentially be difficult to establish radio comms. In those situations, having additional rescue or communication devices would be essential, as well as better route planning before dropping in.
Overall, the BCA Link 2.0 radios are the current standard for skiers looking to make their communications easier in the backcountry. The built-in channel selector on the mic is still the most convenient feature when compared to other comparable radios, and the growing number of zones with common radio channels means having the ability to change channels on the go more essential than ever. I will continue to bring two with me every time I head into the backcountry, but you can do yourself (and your partners) a favor by bringing one yourself. [MSRP: $190, backcountryaccesss.com]