New App Provides Real-Time Data for Backcountry Skiers

Avatech App could change the way skiers plan trips, routes

From the same techies and backcountry skiers who developed a probe that digitally reads snowpack data, comes a new app for your phone that will change the way skiers plan trips into the backcountry and greatly expand real-time data on the snowpack.

The Avanet phone application, developed by Avatech, the technology company based in Park City, Utah, launched today on iTunes. Last year, Avatech debuted the SP1 probe, a tool for avalanche professionals to collect snowpack data digitally. Then came the Avanet online platform, where professionals could share their data from the probe, tap into other forecasters’ data, and plan touring routes.

The app is an extension of the Avanet online. The interface is very easy to use and allows both professional and recreational users to effectively plan trips, review observations from other skiers in the field, and upload their own data—all in real time. The app was designed to let more information about current snowpack conditions flow in a timely manner to forecasters and the general public.

From planning and tracking your trek to crowd-sourcing information Avanet arms skiers with data. Photo: Courtesy of Avatech.
From planning and tracking your trek to crowd-sourcing information Avanet arms skiers with data. Photo: Courtesy of Avatech.

Brint Markle, CEO and co-founder of Avatech, says that the Avanet online platform is already being used by over 500 organizations in 34 countries. While the SP1 probe and the Avanet online platform were designed with professionals in mind, the Avanet app was created for the general public. By creating a database for backcountry skiers the world over to input observations about the snowpack, the app expands the information available to analyze avalanche hazards, snowpack stability, and better plan touring routes. The app makes it easy to crowd-source snow, weather, wind, and avalanche conditions. You can also attach a photo, video, and audio notes of current conditions.

“That can have a really important impact on how you plan your day, or even if you decide to go out at all,” he says.

Users can open the app before they even get to the trailhead to check conditions submitted by other backcountry skiers in the region. While out in the backcountry, skiers can return the favor by typing in their own notes as the app prompts you with various questions. The app allows you to either send out information immediately, or cache it for later when you are within cell service.

Avalanche professionals will be able to give a detailed analysis to share publicly, among other professionals, among their organization, or to be kept privately. But the app was designed with recreational users in mind. Skiers can view all the reports filed by professionals and add their own.

In December, after a software update is released, the app will be able to sync with the Avanet website, so users can create a plan online and then upload it to their phone.

There are already apps similar to Avanet on the market, but Margaret Wheeler, an AMGA-certified mountain guide from Seattle who tested the beta version of the app, says that this is the most user-friendly and comprehensive app she’s come across yet.

“I’ve used apps that are the bits and pieces that Avatech put all in one place,” she says. “It’s the easiest I’ve used and you can make it complicated or simple.”

Wheeler also says that it is a great tool for recreational users because the app caters to their ability of understanding.

The Avanet app allows you to easily submit information in real-time. Photo: Courtesy of Avatech.
The Avanet app allows you to easily submit information in real-time. Photo: Courtesy of Avatech.

While the app will give more information to skiers, the choices they make in the backcountry are still theirs to make. The app will not tell you blatantly whether a slope is safe to ski or not. Skiers’ decisions are ultimately their own no matter how advanced avalanche technology becomes. Wheeler says that she is interested to see how this new technology influences the behavior of its users in the backcountry. She questions whether people are “going to overcompensate and use it too much in the wrong ways and then take more risks” because of a misguided feeling of safety.

Steve Banks, an AMGA-certified mountain guide beta tester based in Crested Butte, Colorado, says that the app could actually have the opposite affect. Instead of skiers taking on more risk, the app may help them make better decisions because it forces users to think about every element that could affect the outcome of the day. Because phones are already integrated into nearly every aspect of our lives, Banks argues that an app makes it enticing for people to take the time to go through and record each piece of data.

“Just by people being more apt to pull out [their phone] and use it, then they’ll be more apt to think about the data that they’re entering and how that affects their decision,” he says.

The app acts as a checklist. By going through the motions—looking at the snow, the temperature, the wind, and taking the time to input that information into the app—skiers are encouraged to think about the data objectively, which may help sway better decision making.