Does a pocket full of static improve a day of riding? Is staying in touch with friends really necessary? No, but it sure is fun.
While snowboard photographers need radios to help capture the cunning stunts pro riders perform, we regular riders need them for more important things like finding the stashes or deciding what time to meet back at the car.
Since May 14, 1996, when the FCC launched the Family Radio Service, over eight-million radios have been sold. And why not? FRS radios are perfect for messing around; their broadcast range is about two miles, they’re small, and look pretty cool.
Being on the FM band, however, means they are line-of-sight, and as the instruction books say, “Range can be reduced by trees and/or mountainous terrain.” In other words, you’re not going to get two miles of range when you’re riding. They also don’t work through walls, so if you’re in the lodge, you’re out of touch.
All of these radios communicate on the same fourteen channels, and most of them have the same 38 “squelch limited sub-channels” that allow many more people to be on each channel. What it boils down to is features, look, and size.
Motorola TA280 SLK $189.99
The TA280 SLK is a newer, smaller version of the old TalkAbout radio that made carrying a personal radio cool. It’s king of style¿the mostly chrome face looks like something out of The Matrix. The only problem is the push-to-talk button is right in the middle of the face. It’s difficult to push without covering the microphone, especially with gloves on. The TA280 SLK comes with a rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery pack that runs the unit for eleven hours of “normal use.”
Cobra MicroTalk3 $149.95
Don’t be fooled by the lack of cool. Though it’s an obvious riff on the design created by the Kenwood Demitoss, the Cobra MircoTalk3 is loaded with functions. It has the standards like scan, call, lock, and jacks for add-on mics and earphones.
The Cobra also has a scramble mode which turns your conversation into an unintelligible noise that can only be descrambled by someone on another Cobra. This comes in handy for top-secret communications. It also sends a Talk Confirmation tone when you’re done with each broadcast. This helps keep you from talking over your friends. Plus, it’s water resistent.
Cherokee FR-460 $139.95
For shear stealth, the Cherokee FR-460 is the dopest. It’s the tiniest of the radios we tested (three-by-two-by-three quarter inches), yet has everything you need. It runs on three AAA batteries, has channel scanning for eavesdropping, and features the same broadcast power as its bigger, bulkier brothers.
One problem, the Cherokee radios have 47 sub-channels, and they don’t line up perfectly with other radios. It may take some fooling around to talk to friends who use other brands.
For hardcore tech-heads, there’s Cherokee’s FR-465. It’s a souped-up version of the 460, bigger and more complicated¿stick with the mini version for on-slope use.