Chapter 05: Communications

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The radio is the single most important piece of equipment carried by TBSP on patrol. Therefore, every Patrol Leader is urged to lead a review of the procedures described in this Article while on patrol. Use of BK and ICOM radios should ideally be reviewed with an actual radio present, which is most often the case while on patrol.

Beginning in 2008, cell phones will be considered a backup communication device for dispatchers. The Patrol Leader should carry a cell phone and expect that it will be used as a backup communication method in the case of poor reception, failed repeater, or other mechanical problems with the radios. Permanent Nordic call signs are issued to all active members of the patrol (including candidates) and should be used for all radio communications.



Each patroller is now assigned a permanent Radio Call Sign designation which can be found in the Patrol Roster and is posted in the Operations Office. This call sign is distributed to Grass Valley and Minden dispatch, and will be used to contact patrols who do not sign out of their patrol areas in a timely fashion.

In the event the Patrol Leader who signed into service at a given trailhead is not available, the radio dispatcher will attempt to contact the following persons, in order:

  1. Patrol Leader (by radio, then cell phone)
  2. Mountain Manager (by cell phone)
  3. Patrol Director
  4. Operations Officer
  5. USFS Liaison

The permanent radio designation for Patrol Director is Nordic 1.

It is of utmost importance that patrols are signed into and out of service. If patrols do not sign out of service in a timely fashion, it could result in an unnecessary search and rescue effort being launched.


To initiate a radio communication, give the call sign of the person you wish to contact, followed by your call sign. In the following example, as the Patrol Leader at Castle Peak, your call sign is "Nordic 10" and you are calling "Nordic 14," another patroller at Castle Peak, on the Tahoe National Forest Local channel.

  • Nordic 10, using Ch 5: "Nordic 14, Nordic 10;"
  • Nordic 14, using Ch 5, would respond: "Nordic 14." Nordic 10 would then continue the communication.
  • Remember it by saying 'Calling Nordic 14, this is Nordic 10.'
  1. Monitor the channel you intend to communicate on for 10 seconds before transmitting. This will allow you to determine whether a conversation is in progress on that channel.
  2. The radios are programmed to stop transmitting after 15 seconds of continuous transmission, so if you are long- winded, you will be cut off. Think ahead, and use several short transmissions if necessary.
  3. Avalanche beacons, cell phones and other electronic gadgets can interfere with radio operation, and vice-versa; so try to wear them such that they are not in close proximity with each other. Moving a beacon at least 15 inches from the radio should eliminate the interference.
  4. USFS rules prohibit the use of codes (e.g., "10-4") except by law enforcement personnel.
  5. Use plain English, and think about what you want to say before depressing the push-to-talk button.
  6. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES REFER TO INDIVIDUALS BY NAME WHILE TRANSMITTING. In the radio community in which TBSP operates, this is considered highly unprofessional at the least, and unsafe at the worst. USE CALL SIGNS ONLY.
  7. If it is necessary to contact Tahoe National Forest's liaison for TBSP by radio, OR to refer to him in conversation while transmitting, use his call sign 'Battalion Seventy-Two', NOT HIS NAME.
  8. Forest Service Law Enforcement uses the call sign 'Seventeen Edward Seven'.
   It is not appropriate to use personal names, slang, profanity, sexual innuendo, nicknames, or to engage in personal conversations on the radio. Assume your conversation is being monitored by citizens using scanners, as well as by the USFS and other public agencies.  NOTE: Communicating by radio while in a car is called for rarely, such as sometimes happens while shuttling cars on the day of the Great Race, or if you are Mountian Manager. Wearing a radio while driving is emphatically NOT recommended, as it could cause severe chest injury or death in the event of an accident. If it is absolutely necessary to communicate by radio while driving, this task should be delegated to a patroller passenger. Preferably, the car should be stopped in a safe and legal location prior to making a transmission.
  • Transmission Problems: if you are having trouble reaching Grass Valley or Minden, try one of the following, after checking your battery and your channel setting:
  1. Use a different repeater.
  2. Use a different radio.
  3. Go to high ground if possible
  4. Consider using a relay patroller on high ground or with a better view of a repeater.
  5. Enter radio feedback on Daily Ops Log
  6. Do not attempt to reprogram the radios. That said, to add or remove a channel from scan, turn the channel selector to that channel and press ENT or CLR on the keyboard.

Patroller Tasks

You should be able to perform all the following tasks:

  1. Put on Radio Pouch/Harness
  2. Install and change battery
  3. Turn on radio
  4. Check battery strength
  5. Check transmit/receive functions
  6. Hand Microphone use (for ICOM only)
  7. Check-in with USFS (Minden and Grass Valley)
  8. Set-up for patrolling as Patrol Leader (or Mtn. Manager) and as patroller
  9. Talk within patrol
  10. Talk to USFS Dispatch to report incident.
  11. Switch to a Tone if not being received
  12. Switch channels to talk to helicopter or DSFD or TNSAR
  13. Resume transmiting within patrol
  14. Change battery when low
  15. Sign off with USFS
  16. Return to shed, and charge radio/battery and put away radio harness

We primarily use Bendix/King (BK) 14-channel radios and ICOM radios, some of which are owned by the patrol and some of which are supplied by the Forest Service. These radios cost approximately $800 each and must be handled carefully. Each model has it's own radio pouches, which contains a Radio Card with a short reference. The Radio and Pouches should be worn inside your parka during cold weather (so the batteries function) and kept dry during wet weather. If your radio gets wet, turn it off and don't turn it on again until it is thoroughly dry (usually not until the next day).

We also use Motorola Talk-About 2-way "family channel" radios to supplement the Bendix/King radios on patrol, for training sessions, and special events. The normal channel/code setting is '8/30', corresponding to the usual meeting time at the equipment shed. The Motorola radios cannot be used to communicate with patrollers carrying Bendix/King radios. They have a limited range (about 2 miles), and operate only in line-of-sight with each other. These radios should also be handled carefully, and sheltered from cold weather and moisture.


This section summarizes the steps for handling and using the radios and batteries during the typical patrol day. (Time and Location is in parenthesis).

  1. (Before Patrol, at the Equipment Shed) Mountain Manager takes batteries from the bottom of the battery slide (or charger if fully charged), attaches them to radio bodies, performs radio check to verify function, and puts the radios and radio pouches in bins for the Patrol Leader to take to the parking area for that day, marking the Equipment Checklist accordingly.
  2. (Before Patrol, at the Equipment Shed) Mountain Manager tests an additional spare battery for operation with a radio body (for Bendix King radios: 'AA' clamshell if possible, otherwise another battery from the bottom of the battery slide; for ICOM radios: another battery from the bottom of the battery slide), then removes the battery and puts it in a waterproof container in the Patrol Leader's equipment bin, marking the Equipment Checklist accordingly. A spare battery should be carried by each team and by the Mountain Manager.
  3. (Before Patrol, at the Equipment Shed) Mountain Manager keeps one radio for him/herself, and turns it on. (See note below.)
  4. (Before Patrol, at the Parking Area) Patrol Leader distributes radios to team members and confirms each member’s permanent call signs.
  5. (Start of Patrol, at the Parking Area) Patrol Leader calls Grass Valley (for Castle Peak and Pole Creek) or Minden (for Tahoe Meadows) to put team 'in service'. Essential information to communicate includes:
    • location,
    • area to be patrolled,
    • call sign of Patrol Leader,
    • number of additional patrollers,
    • and nature of service (patrol, training, overnight etc.).
    • An example of such a communication, done succinctly: 'Nordic 23 and 3 additional patrollers, in service at Castle Peak trailhead for overnight training in Round Valley.' (The Patrol Leader could break this up into two communications if necessary to avoid the 15-second cutoff.)
  6. (Start of Patrol, at the Trailhead)
    • BENDIX KING radios: Patrol Leader selects Ch 5 with either PRIORITY (CP, MP, PC) or SCAN (TM, GC) turned on, and directs other patrollers to turn radios on and select Ch 5.
    • ICOM radios: Patrol Leader selects SCAN (CP for Castle Peak, TM for Tahoe Meadows, or GR for Great Race), and directs other patrollers to turn radios on and select TBSP. (Note: Patrol Leaders should select SCAN and not ISCAN; ISCAN stands for 'incident scan' and includes applicable outside agency frequencies that are excluded from SCAN, but essential during an incident. ISCAN should only be used when Patrollers are involved in an incident.)
  7. (During patrol, in the Patrol Area) Patrol Leader contacts or responds to Grass Valley, Minden, Careflight, Mountain Manager, or other patrollers as necessary while patrolling.
  8. (During patrol, in the Patrol Area) Patrol Leader uses spare battery if necessary.
  9. (End of patrol, in the Parking Area) Patrol Leader calls Grass Valley or Minden (depending on area patrolled) to put team 'out of service'. This is generally an abbreviated version of the 'in-service' call: 'Nordic 23 and 3 additional patrollers out of service at Castle Peak trailhead.' If there is more than one patrol, DO NOT SAY ALL PATROLLERS OUT OF SERVICE, but say how many are with you. The Mountain Manager should leave radio on and continue monitoring until all patrols are out of service.
  10. (End of patrol, in the Parking Area) Patrol Leader retrieves all radios and radio pouches from team.
  11. (Equipment Shed) Mountain Manager removes batteries from radios, ensures they are dry, and inserts them in chargers (putting charged batteries in top of battery slide). Mountain Manager ensures radio bodies and pouches are dry, and then return them to their respective boxes. Any items needing repair are put in the repair bin.
  12. (Equipment Shed) Mountain Manager removes the spare battery, ensures it is dry, and inserts it in a charger.
  13. (Equipment Shed) When all team members have been accounted for, Mountain Manager returns his/her own radio and battery as just described.

Tahoe Backcountry Ski Patrol Manual

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