Mobile in the mountains
January 25, 2013
There used to be a time when you had to meet someone at a specific time in a specific place and not be late or change plans last minute. Sounds crazy, right? While some bemoan the cell phone-obsessed era we’re currently living in, others have embraced the technology, creating smartphone applications (known as “apps” to those who are hip and happening) that amaze, entertain and inform us.
Not all smartphone apps are made by hoodie-loving college dropouts in Silicon Valley. Mark Roebke is the director of product innovation for Active Network in Avon. Roebke designed RTP’s Realski, a popular iPhone app, with skiers and locals in mind.
“I look at the new technology and see how this can apply to skiing,” Roebke said. “What I love about mobile is that it’s one of the most innovative things out there right now. The bar of what people expect apps to do is really high.”
Since the Apple app store launched for the iPhone in 2008, apps are now easier to use while becoming more complex in their design. With hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from, it can be hard to know which ones are worth your hard-earned $0.99 cents (or more). We asked local residents to give us their top picks for the apps they find most helpful and enjoy using. Downloading these apps might just make you happy enough to forget about the high bills that often come along with owning a smartphone.
Whether you’re a visitor or a long-time local, there are a few apps that can add more to your day on the mountain. RTP’s Realski uses augmented reality to create a digital map showing you where you are, trails ahead of you and points of interest just by holding up your phone. Roebke designed Realski as an alternative to a traditional paper map, with augmented reality allowing for more than one plane of vision.
“At a ski mountain a lot of the challenge is that you’re looking up and wondering, ‘What’s that run over there?’ and then looking down and wondering ‘What’s that restaurant down there?'” Roebke said. “Not only is distance important but so is elevation. (Realski) displays information we’ve been seeing our whole lives on a flat terrain in a new and engaging way.”
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Realski is available to download for the iPhone.
If you haven’t tried Epic Mix yet, there are some new features this year that might be worth the upgrade. At Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Heavenly and Northstar, you can use Epic Mix to race against your friends or try to beat the times set by Olympic Gold Medalist Lindsey Vonn. Eagle resident Nadine Davis thinks the photos are the best part of Epic Mix.
“I like Epic Mix photo because the photographer is really good and I like posting the photos and sharing them that way,” Davis said. “I’m not a super Epic Mix geek, but it’s fun.”
Epic Mix is available for both iPhone and Android.
If you want to be the first to know about any new snow, there are a few apps locals find to be more accurate and up to date than others. Minturn resident Devin Schow recommends the 9 News Weather App.
“You get a massive radar selection on the 9 News app,” Schow said. “It’s super easy to use and you can store up to multiple locations.”
To keep up on powder days, Roebke checks the Snow Report app run by North Face.
“A lot of (snow report apps) update unpredictably,” Roebke said. “(The North Face) one is pretty consistent. With others there’s a good chance the report you see is actually yesterday’s.”
The 9 News Weather App and the Snow Report app are available for both iPhone and Android.
Smartphone apps can be fun and informative, but a few apps designed for safety could save lives. Tested in the Swiss Alps, SnoWhere helps others (who also have the app) find you in the backcountry even in areas without mobile network coverage. Roebke said another good app is Spot Connect, which links your smartphone to communication satellites. Spot Connect’s SOS function can then send out emergency messages and GPS coordinates to GEOS.
SnoWhere is available for iPhone and Spot Connect is available for both iPhone and Android.
Apps with traveling and restaurant information are as ubiquitous as emoticons, but most aren’t made to work specifically in Eagle County. However, some locals have found a few that work for them.
“There are many great (local) apps that each serve a distinct purpose, from planning your trip to providing news, ” said Chris Romer, executive director of Vail Valley Partnership.
Many local eateries use Open Table, a quick and convenient app for restaurant reservations.
Romer said his picks for Vail-related apps are the Visit Vail Valley app and the Vail App, which has information for those unfamiliar with the area. Romer’s personal favorite is the app provided by Trippons.com, which offers coupons for local businesses.
Some might say their favorite part about visiting the Vail Valley is the chance to turn off their cellphones and connect with nature instead. Perhaps being in the mountains will always make us feel a bit disconnected, in a good way. That doesn’t mean technology can’t enhance our mountain experience. Have fun taking a pic of the view when you reach the top of the Gondola and posting it to Instagram for all your friends to envy. But don’t forget to put down your phone for a minute and look at the stunning landscape with your own eyes. You might remember it better than a photograph that way.