Winter sports have gone digital. But is that a good thing?
In “Brave New World,” a 1931 fiction that’s becoming more and more realistic every year, author Aldous Huxley imagines a future where men and women are slaves to the machines and technology they created. It’s not “Terminator”-style slavery — Huxley didn’t go as far as a nuclear apocalypse — but instead it’s willing slavery, something eerily similar to our modern-day love affair with smartphones and Snapchat and apps upon apps.
No matter what you think about “Brave New World” and its warnings, the best mobile apps honestly make life in the mountains easier and more accessible, especially if you’re new to this big, snowy playground called Summit County.
Vail Resorts launched Epic Mix in 2010 and changed the resort game by adding pins, chairlift wait times and, of course, vertical tracking. Less than a decade later, folding paper maps have given way to in-house apps at just about every major resort. Skiers and snowboarders now have real-time terrain updates, activity trackers and even seductive electronic narrators (a la Siri) that serenade about snowfall and upcoming events. How’s that for a brave new world?
Before bundling up for your next adventure — blues or blacks, backcountry or lift lines, skis or snowshoes — here’s a look at seven mobile apps made for mountain town living and playing. Just remember to put the phone down every so often and enjoy the real reason you’re here: to get away from it all.
| FOR BACKCOUNTRY JUNKIES |
Platforms: iOS and Android
In a nutshell: Daily updates on avalanche conditions and observations from 10 zones across Colorado.
In the past five years, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center has stepped up its game in response to the booming popularity of backcountry travel. The state office has added more forecasters, more zones and, in one of the best moves yet, an incredibly useful mobile app for daily avalanche and terrain conditions.
The app is clean and ridiculously simple to use. The home screen features a color-coded map of the state split into 10 zones, each with different colors for real-time avy danger: green for low, yellow for moderate, orange for considerable, red for high and black for extreme. Find your local zone in the pull-down menu for an in-depth, ground-level report from forecasters in that area. The daily reports are wonderfully detailed, with a summary, aspect graphs, and extended discussion with photos and more.
There’s also a tab to submit observations of avy conditions in the field — a truly collaborative feature that benefits everyone. If you see a slide, send the photos and details here before posting all over Facebook.
SURVEYOR TOOLS FREE
In a nutshell: Quickly ID the angle, altitude and elevation of a backcountry slope with real-time video.
It’s backcountry shorthand everyone should know: slopes between 30 and 45 degrees are the danger zone. But how do you know if a tantalizing face is in the zone without a theodolite, the hefty machinery land surveyors use to measure angles?
Welcome to Surveyor Tools Free, an app that pairs your smartphone camera with on-screen measurements for angles and more. Simply launch the app and line it up with your intended slope. The app then takes info from the camera and converts it into useful data, including angle degrees. It takes some practice for laymen to get the hang of it, but your life is worth a few extra minutes. Search “surveyor tools” in the Apple Store for similar iOS apps.
Platforms: iOS and Android
In a nutshell: An interactive 3-D map for resort and backcountry terrain, including topo info, access gates and detailed data.
Launched in Europe in 2013, FATMAP 3D made its North American debut last season with maps for Keystone Resort, Vail and a handful of other resorts. Just one season later, developers have added a whopping 80-plus maps to the app, from big boys like Beaver Creek and Telluride to Wolf Creek and the Loveland Pass backcountry. Every Summit County ski hill is included, along with the majority of Colorado resorts.
FATMAP 3D is made for backcountry nerds, by backcountry nerds, and the amount of info included with every map is almost overwhelming. The coolest feature by far is the topographical 3-D mapping: like Google Earth, pinch, pull, zoom and swipe across the screen to see every gully, glade and cliff band on your route. At the resorts, every run is listed with length, difficulty, nearby lifts and terrain features.
Because there’s so much going on here, FATMAP is best used for trip planning — not field navigating. It launched for free with all features, but the battery-saving downloadable map option is now $29.99 per year. Try the free streaming option at home on WiFi before coughing up the cash.
Cost: Free for streaming, $29.99 annual for downloadable maps
| FOR POWDER HOUNDS |
Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows
In a nutshell: The go-to source for snowfall forecasts across the nation and, soon enough, the globe.
Joel Gratz is known as the “Powder Prophet,” and with good reason. The Front Range forecaster launched a blog several years ago to predict powder days at his favorite Colorado resorts, and since then Open Snow has exploded to become everyone’s favorite powder-day planner.
Gratz still writes the daily forecasts for Colorado, which include a brief summary of the best days and locations for powder, along with an extended discussion of his forecast. It’s interesting to read through Gratz’s thought process, especially when he’s good at predicting the storms everyone else misses. Like scary good.
Cost: Free for basic app, $19 annual for All-Access Pass with 10-day forecasts and more
| FOR NORDIC SKIERS |
Platforms: iOS and Android
In a nutshell: Real-time trail and terrain info for a slew of activities, including Nordic skiing and hiking.
Like FATMAP 3D for Nordic skiers, TrailHub is a great resource for trip planning and trail conditions. It features more than 25 activities — winter and summer, from hiking and trail running to disc golf and horseback riding — and includes the basics for each activity hotspot: how to get there, where to park, number of trails, nearby attractions and more. The map feature isn’t as detailed as FATMAP, but it doesn’t have to be for local clients like the Frisco Nordic Center. Just search “Nordic-AT-Backcountry” on the home screen and the app loads up-to-date info on trails and more.
The one downside: It seems like the app developers work with partners, and so only Nordic centers and other attractions affiliated with TrailHub are included. There is no info for Gold Run Nordic, Breckenridge Nordic or Keystone Cross-Country (yet), and info for Tennessee Pass Nordic and Granby Ranch weren’t updated as of early February. But if Frisco is on your to-do list, don’t leave home without loading this first.
| FOR NEW FRIENDS |
In a nutshell: A Colorado-born platform made to connect outdoor junkies with other outdoor junkies.
In 2011, Gociety entered the Apple Store market with a simple concept: skiers, snowboarders and everyone else who plays outside (call it the tribe) love finding other people to play with. Since then, the app has been downloaded tens of thousands of times by folks who fit the mold of Colorado thrill seeker. It’s also expanded to dozens of markets across the country, making it easy to find one or two (or more) friends with a platform that’s a cross between Facebook and Tinder for platonic buddies.
Gociety is still an iOS-only app, but the company’s get-togethers are open to anyone. They host events throughout the year, from demo days to ski trips to pub-crawls, and the schedule is updated through the app. If you don’t own an iPhone, just make friends with someone who does, and then make friends with their tribe.
| FOR CHAIRLIFT DATERS |
Platforms: iOS and Android
In a nutshell: Like Tinder for outdoorsy types.
It seems like there’s a Tinder knockoff for anyone these days: Christian Mingle for churchgoers, Bumble for ladies who make the first move, even High There! for cannabis users.
LuvByrd is the chairlift answer to Tinder. It does away with mindless swiping and instead pairs users based on the outdoor activities they like: snowboarding, surfing, photography, rock climbing and dozens more. The activities, photos and brief blurbs appear when you click on a profile, and from there it’s your job to work some magic. The company hosted a few chairlift speed-dating events at Loveland this season, but there is no location feature for nearby matches. Who knows? Your soulmate could be in Oklahoma.
Cost: Free for basic, $5-$10 for unlimited messaging and pairing info