The Heli-Ski Blog

Google Street View – Coming to a Ski Area Near You!

Posted by Topher Donahue on Nov 17, 2010 9:30:00 AM

Do you think there will be a time when we use our smart phones to plan our ski day?  Will real-time satellite and web cams reveal which tree stashes have already been shredded and which ones are still untouched?  Will the skiers with the best computers get the best snow?

Some ski resorts already utilize RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) systems to track lift tickets.  And starting this season, lift tickets for several resorts in California and Colorado will upload your ski statistics to the EpicMix interface, a system that uses RFID data to record your ski experience, and imports the information into a free app that can be used in countless ways:

On the bright side, parents can see where kids are skiing, and goal-oriented skiers can easily see and share their entire season through social networking.  On the dark side, if you’re not careful, your entire Facebook network will know what you really did on your “sick day.”

Following this chain of dominoes, how long before ski areas start selling information packages that give skiers real-time data on how many skiers have been on each lift?  I can see it now: skiers hunched over on the lift, watching their iPhones to see how many people have reached the back bowl, or sliced up the corduroy on the front side.    

I just came across the Google Street View of the Whistler ski area.   It’s not a current photo, but how long before you can learn a ski area on a computer before ever stepping into your bindings?  

If all this information floods the ski resort experience, I can just imagine walking up to a ticket window and having this conversation:

“Could I please buy two adult lift tickets?”

“Would you like the basic ticket, the smart ticket, or the super-smart ticket?”  

“What’s the difference?”

“The basic ticket gets you on the lift. The smart ticket gives you access to the skier traffic database so you know what runs are being skied most.  The super-smart ticket gives you access to the traffic database as well as the live trail cams for planning the optimal powder day.”

“Umm. Thank you. I think I’ll save my money and go heliskiing.”

Maybe this is a little far-fetched, but wilder things have happened.  Remember when local knowledge was the only way to avoid long lift lines?  Now the trail signs in many resorts have real-time lift line wait times posted to let skiers know which lifts are busiest.  Remember when you would have been laughed out of town if you predicted real-time traffic information on the dashboard of your car?

When I get the chance to go to a ski area for the first time, I avoid even picking up a trail map.  I like the adventure of exploring a ski mountain.  If I get too far out there, I’m sure to run into a fence marking the boundary - at least in North America - and the process of watching a ski area unfold in front of my skis is thrilling.

In mountaineering, we call this approach "onsighting", or going for it "on-sight" with little or no information, and it’s viewed as a much higher level of achievement than doing the exact same thing with all the information available.   

If skiing ever gets to the point where the skier with the fastest smart phone and biggest computer chip in their lift ticket gets the best snow, I'll probably retreat into the backcountry where experience and local knowledge will still be the best way to get the goods.

Do you think this is a realistic possibility in the future?  If such technology did become available, what would you do?  gothics heliski clouds

Photo of heliskiing with local knowledge at CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue.  Smart phones don't work here anyway.

Topics: Tricks of the Trade, resort skiing, powder skiing