BCA ambassador Greg Hope is all about communication in the backcountry. As a longtime resident of Telluride, Colorado, Hope has seen a recent boom in backcountry use in part because of the area’s alluring sidecountry access, with aesthetic couloirs that are visible from resort boundaries to draw the eye and imagination of adventurous riders. And during a pandemic, the pressure is on to make sure these users are following proper safety precautions as more people seek out the safety of open-air recreation. But for Hope, this education about safety goes beyond education about typical avalanche mitigation practices. He believes that an emphasis should also be placed on the importance of inter-group radio communication.
“I think the continuation of crowds and how popular the backcountry is becoming [the theme for 2021],” notes Hope about the growing focus on what more people in the backcountry means for safety. “The backcountry is cool and I can’t blame people for wanting to be a part of it, but it’s not how it used to be and it’s kind of been heading that way for the last ten years. It’s easy to get crusty about it all and I get why people want to be out there, but there is a balance with the enjoyment of the sport and trying to get people to understand the safety precautions that are necessary.”
Hope’s desire to facilitate better communication between groups was fueled by an incident in April 2016 when he and a friend were descending the Grandfather Couloir in the San Juan Mountains. While the duo was in the midst of a roped descent, a group from above sluffed Hope’s partner off of her rappel. If the other group had carried radios to hear Hope’s fruitless calls asking them to wait until they had completed their rappel and exited the line, the accident may never have happened.
“The common radio channel thing already has been super useful, and it seems like it’s caught on really well,” explains Hope about the new push among backcountry skiers to promote the use of radios as a way to communicate between groups. “I think maybe more than even just within your own group, it’s huge to have the common channels for certain areas and to be able to communicate with other groups if there’s a rescue situation, people on top of you, whatever it may be.”
About how this radio communication trend is being received in the Telluride area, Hope says, “I think this trend is catching on, but at the same time I think radios have their limits. Like with anything new, some people are hesitant to adopt them and old-timers stick to their ways more with the yelling technique. But generally speaking, I think people look at [the common radio channels] positively and have taken it pretty well.”
Ultimately, Hope sees radios as having a role besides the other backcountry necessities: beacon, shovel, and probe. As the dialogue evolves around the vital role communication plays in avalanche safety, so too will the acceptance of radios and common radio channels for backcountry goers.
“What I tell people who are getting into the backcountry nowadays is that I don’t go out without my BC Link radio, because it seems to be the new essential: beacon, shovel probe, radio. The radio is just as important as everything else.”