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11 December 2014

Ski tech: the best new ski apps this season

From off-piste fly-throughs to ski fitness programmes, and packing lists to snow forecasts, apps can make your ski trip more fun, more sociable, more safe, and give you lots to boast about. Here's our round-up of the best ski apps, plus some great discounts for club members too.

Things have come a long way since the first generation of ski mapping apps. From the start skiing and snowboarding were obvious candidates for tech help - the challenges of navigation, the fun or competitive desire to record your progress, the social side too. One day very soon we'll all be finding our way around the pistes on mobile devices, as paper piste maps go the way of road atlases. And that's just on the mountain - there are also dozens of ways that technology can help off the mountain too, from anticipatory weather forecasts to packing lists to fitness. The technology is getting better all the time, and there are scores of practical, well, applications...

Fitness apps

Fitness apps are always popular - it makes a lot of sense when you take into account that everyone needs a little encouragement, and if you can do the fitness routines at home, so much the better. And even expensive apps cost less than a single fitness class.

SkiFit is a new video-based app and online training programme devised by Chamonix-based physiotherapist and clinical expert, Neil Maclean-Martin. It's an eight-week training programme to improve strength in key muscles and develop flexibility and balance in preparation for a ski trip or season. SkiFit can be accessed on the website as well as from a tablet or phone.

Skifit app
The Skifit app works on smartphones, tablets and online

Each 60-minute guided session includes a warm up, activation exercises, core work, circuits, coordination exercises and a final stretch down, and the app recommends doing the sessions two to three times a week. Maclean-Martin is a clinical specialist in musculoskeletal sports injuries, regarded as one of Europe's leading ski and snowboard physiotherapists, and he regularly treats Chamonix's pro-skiers and mountain professionals. He designed this app to be, as he calls it, a 'pre-habilitation' programme: "Last season I treated over 40 ACL knee injuries amongst a series of other ski and snowboard injuries. I became convinced that many of them could have been avoided. I introduced my SkiFit classes last season in Chamonix and the feedback was outstanding. People quickly noticed improved strength which translated almost immediately to how they felt on snow."

Member discount on SkiFit - it doesn't get much better than FREE!

SkiFit costs £4.99 for Phase One or £9.99 for the full programme, and there's a free lite taster version, and best of all Ski Club members get a 100% discount on the programme for the first two weeks - that's two free weeks! After that you get 20% off the rest too - bargain! As ever, click here if you're not a member but are thinking about it.



The race to map

Most major resorts offer free apps, providing users with piste maps which are interactive to a greater or lesser extent, as well as local weather forecasts, real-time information on lift openings, piste grooming schedules and details of mountain restaurants. Should a resort not boast its own app, sites such as Skidea and Mountaindynamics enable users to download maps of ski resorts to Garmin or Magellan GPS devices for free or for a nominal sum. Alternatively, iTrailmap (£2.99) enables you to download overhead maps and 3D piste maps for over 750 ski resorts across the globe, using the built-in GPS to navigate the slopes.

The race to create the technology that allows skiers to see where they are on the panoramic 3-D artist's rendition of the mountains that we are familiar with from paper piste maps has taken many twists and turns. Viewers of BBC2's Dragons' Den may have seen Jean-Claude Baumgartner win over judges Theo Paphitis and Peter Jones to his Android interactive trail map, Satski or Satsports. And indeed when Ski+board tested it a few years ago, it worked remarkably well - especially remarkable given that in his enthusiasm to get funding Baumgartner fudged his facts, was convicted of fraud and was jailed in 2012 for more than two years, stalling progress there.

Views from the FATMAP: piste reviews, friend location, and an avalanche risk heatmap

But things have come on a lot and now, new for this winter, is a very impressive-looking offering - FATMAP. If it looks like they're shouting, that's okay - it sounds like they've got a lot to shout about.

On- and off-piste features

FATMAP call themselves a 'mapping and ski planning tool', and combine gaming and mobile technology to produce 3D maps on which skiers can locate themselves very accurately. As you'd expect they've got the on-piste side covered with descriptions of the pistes, ratings and reviews, and restaurant and lift info. But they've also launched themselves under the area boundary rope and hope to be making big changes to the off-piste experience - they've got fly-throughs of classic off-piste lines, slope gradient heat mapping, avalanche and crevasse zone identification, and info on weather and snow conditions.
And then there's the social side - real-time location sharing could put an end to accidentally following the wrong red-hatted person down the slope, and interactive resort information and ski track recording will link up to social networks so the app does the showing off for you.
It sounds to us like some tech geek who had a very serious case of the mapping bug, and was big on skiing, got a bit obsessed. And yes - that's exactly what happened, only it was two geeks - Dave and Misha.
FATMAP will cover resorts throughout the French and Swiss Alps and will be available on mobile devices and tablets, for Apple and Android, and will launch early next year.
FATMAP will initially Chamonix, Verbier, Zermatt, Espace Killy and Paradiski from £2.49 per resort per year or £9.99 to include freeride areas.

Ski Club member discount on FATMAP

Ski Club members will receive a giant 50% discount off a FATMAP area of their choice this winter - we'll be posting the details here the moment the app is live, which should be any minute now. If you're not a member, click here to be persuaded!
FATMAP are also giving all of our resort leaders and ambassadors a free premium FATMAP Freeride version to test in their chosen ski area, so if you're skiing with a leader this season you can ask them what they think, or even keep tabs on them with the app. Handy.

And the rest?

Manage your money with the Caxton FX App

Used in conjunction with the Caxton card, the Caxton FX app lets you manage your holiday money with zero fees and even less stress. The app allows you to load your currency card at any point before or during your trip, check your balance and transactions, switch currencies, and gain access to real time, competitive exchange rates – wherever you are.  You also have the opportunity to lock in favourable exchange rates before you leave for your holiday.

What's more, Ski Club members get £10 added to their balance when they take out a Caxton card - read more here.

Packing lists

There are apps to help you decide what to pack (Mammut packing list, free) as well as apps with step-by-step guides for snowboard tricks (Snowtrix, 69p) and split-screen video analysis tools to nail your carving (Ski School, £2.99).

Name that peak

Handy for the mountain geek, or anyone who's ever looked at a mountain range and struggled to get their bearings, Point de vue (£2.49) augments the landscape when you point your phone at it and identifies the surrounding peaks, providing their names and altitudes.

SOS button

Apps aren't just about sourcing information but can also help to ensure your safety on the mountain. The free Mammut safety app is good for off-piste skiers and riders: the software provides global avalanche bulletins, a compass, clinometer, altimeter and an SOS button, which instantly transmits the coordinates of your location by text to the local emergency services. While this app is no alternative to an avalanche transceiver, it's a useful addition to the off-piste skier's safety arsenal.

... and our very own Ski Club snow report app!

Last, but definitely not least, the Ski Club's free app provides detailed snow reports, piste conditions, weather forecasts and live webcams for some 250 resorts across the world. It was downloaded 50,000 times in its first two months of existence back in 2010, and it's still going strong, bringing our daily snow reports to your pocket.

Ski Club weather app
Our snow reports department brings you the latest on 250 ski resorts via our app

Using smartphones abroad

If you're concerned that these apps will rack up huge data roaming charges on your mobile phone bill, download maps before you leave home, and look out for free wifi on lifts and in mountain restaurants. And bear in mind that the recent caps on roaming charges within the European Union and Norway do not apply to Switzerland or Andorra - you can still get stung there.
If you want to track your skiing day, but prefer not to use a mobile or buy a gadget, log on to Skiline and enter your lift pass number. It will generate an altitude diagram showing how many kilometres and vertical metres you covered by recording your lift journeys in 100 resorts in nine countries, including Austria, Switzerland and Italy.

Let us know in the comments below if you have a ski app that you recommend, or in fact if you have a burning idea for one...

Parts of this article were written by Ski+board's technology editor Gabriella Le Breton and appeared in the November 2014 issue. You can read the issue online here, or get it through the app store too!

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