Choosing a Radio for Skiing and Snowsports
This article is to help snowsporters choose a suitable radio for use on-piste. It is assumed the radios you need will be hand-held radios (walkie talkies) working back-to-back (meaning direct to one another). Radios that you can take from one resort to another. If you are a professional user tied to one site or resort then you might look at the section titled Licensed Radios.
- About Licence Free PMR446 radios.
- About Licensed Radios.
- About VHF and UHF
- About Range
- Choosing a Licensed Radio.
- Choosing a Licence-free radios
- Choosing Headsets and Earpieces
All radio equipment must conform with the laws of the country in which they are used. There is no international licensing authority so licensing has to be applied for from the country which the radios will be used.
Radios conforming to the PMR446 specification are an exception and can be used freely in most European countries without a licence. There is a similar specification called Family Radio Service (FRS) in the USA (North America). FRS radios and PMR446 radios will not talk to each other. www.wildtalk.com do not sell FRS radios.
For these reasons PMR446 radios make the ideal choice for all snowsports except for professional users working only in one location.
About Licence Free PMR446 radios.
All PMR446 radios have only 8 channels. This is obviously not enough channels for a busy locations so to prevent you hearing other users on your channel a system called CTCSS is used. CTCSS is some times also sold as DCS, 'Sub Channel', 'Quiet Talk' and many other names. There are at least 38 CTCSS 'sub channels'. So combined with 8 real channels you have in theory at least 300 channel combinations to choose from. This means you should never hear other users on your channel assuming your channel has be set up correctly. Some cheaper radios do not have CTCSS. Wildtalk only sells radios with CTCSS.
As PMR446 is licence free across Europe this is the system Wildtalk recommends for most snowsport users. We have many reports of PMR446 radios being used in the North America without problem but technically you will be contravening US laws so we recommend you source FRS (the US equivalent of PMR446) radios in the USA for use in the USA.
About Licensed Radios.
Licensed radios are more powerful than PMR446 and with all other variables being equal a licensed radio might give up to twice the range of PMR446 radios in back-to-back mode. However used as a direct alternative to PMR446 radios in the hills the main restriction to range will be your location rather than the power of the radios. Often even moving a few metres to higher ground can improve range more than the difference in range between licensed and licence-free radios.
The main advantage to using licensed radios is that they can be used with a Repeater. This (business solution) is impractical for leisure radio users. Located in a position that overlooks the whole ski area, all your radio traffic passes though the repeater giving massive range improvements. Repeaters require licensing, a power supply, a fairly high aerial and secure location so they are not generally portable (although we can supply portable and Solar powered repeaters).
A licence for back-to-back radio systems in the UK is very cheap however and licence applications are a formality. Licensing for repeaters is more expensive.
The claims made by manufacturers on the boxes of cheaper radios for 'x' kilometres are fairly meaningless. All hand-held radio are line-of-site. This means they cannot be used where a mountain or high ground is in the way. Wet foliage, forestry, vehicles and buildings also reduce the range significantly Best range will be achieved in open ground with the minimum obstacles in the way. The cheapest radios will achieve 10's of kilometres under the right circumstances and under the worst conditions the most expensive and best radios will only achieve a few hundred meters. The better audio quality on the more expensive radios will help intelligibility at maximum ranges.
Choosing a Licence-free radio.
Radios vary massively in quality and performance. The cost difference between the cheapest and most expensive is at least 10 to 1. Generally the more you pay the better the charging system you get, better batteries and better audio quality. The best licence free radios are identical to their Licensed equivalents
Kenwood, Hytera, Icom, Kirisun, Vertex and a few other PMR446 makes are made to last years, they are fully serviceable and even the smallest part is available as a spare, they only differ in their technical specifications. The low cost 'twin pack' radios and all Motorola licence-free radios have only a 12 month warranty and spare parts (other than batteries) are not normally available.
The more expensive radios have drop in 'smart' chargers where they charge the battery just the right amount and no more, much like a mobile phone. Chargers on the twin pack radios (with exceptions) are trickle chargers. This means you have to decide when to stop charging the battery and to avoid overcharging. The one key advantage to the lower cost twin pack radios is they can normally be used with AAA or AA disposable batteries so you can keep a set to hand if the re-chargeables unexpectedly go flat.
Choosing Headsets and Earpieces
Hearing a radio while moving at speed on the snow is virtually impossible without an earpiece. Stopping to remove gloves to press the transmit button is also very inconvenient. A good loud earpiece which will work under hat or helmet is essential. If it has a large transmit button that you can press with gloved hands that helps, especially if it is securely attached to your clothing. Finally a boom Mic means you do not have to turn your head to the Mic when speaking so you can keep on moving and chat.
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