Backcountry Skiing in the Digital Age: The smartphone apps that aid off-piste shredders

Backcountry Skiing in the Digital Age: The smartphone apps that aid off-piste shredders

You’ve just got to love the digital age. These days, the only thing more important than hashtagging the Insta-banger pic from your recent backcountry tour is getting there and back safely. Off-piste rescue tools—beacons, probes, shovels and air bags—have seen enormous safety updates in recent years, and now that trend is influencing the app market. We bring our phones with us almost everywhere. Why not put that pocket-sized super computer to good use when traveling in the backcountry? Here are some smartphone app standouts that provide better communication, planning and information sharing for the out-of-bounds traveler.


$179 (per pair)

No service, no problem. Beartooth is an off-the-grid network that allows you to talk and text even when your celly has no bars. It’s a handheld device, about the size of an iPhone 4, that pairs with a smartphone to provide some nifty benefits. Beartooth turns your phone into a “push-to-talk” walkie-talkie with a five-mile range; allows single or group texting and location sharing within a 10-mile area; holds offline topographic maps; and can charge your phone battery. Once the device is paired with your phone via Bluetooth, you can communicate through the app with other Beartooth users. Remember the time you were nearing the end of that long tour, separated from the group in the woods? Was it a hard left or a hard right you were supposed to make at the creek bed? Beartooth to the rescue.


Free Download

We’re all just one happy ski bum family, right? Avatech, the company behind the Avanet app, sure thinks so. It hopes to unite the backcountry skiing community, from individual enthusiasts to professional guides, with this information-sharing platform. Avanet is a real-time, crowd-sourced, beta-sharing community. Users can swap info about backcountry ski lines, routes, snow safety reports and weather conditions, as well as share useful photos. All info is geotagged and mapped out in an easily discernible fashion. The app provides area history and a bank of trip reports to aid in decision-making and trip planning. Avanet also provides key tour metrics like total trip time, elevation gain and loss and distance traveled to help you better plan your day. Following your tour, you can analyze and evaluate this pre-trip info against your ski adventure analytics in order to track performance. Just like a Swiss Army Knife, Avant does everything.

Rider: Henrik Windstedt Location: Monte Rosa, Italy

Henrik Windstedt in Monte Rosa, Italy. Photo: Oskar Enander

Google Maps

Free Download

It’s almost 2017; you are most likely familiar (if not, where have you been?) with Google Maps. So, how does the app you use to find “food near me” apply to practical use for the backcountry skier? Of all the free GPS apps, Google is the most reliable and has the most accurate maps and location pinpointing. Pre-trip planning and route finding are the app’s most valuable tools for the off-piste skier. The stellar satellite imagery provides an unmatched, up-to-date bird’s eye view of terrain. Coordinating the approach, the ski lines and the tour exit from the comfort of your couch prevents headaches when you’re actually on the trail. Additionally, downloadable offline maps come in handy during any ski tour when cell reception has gone the way of the dodo. Google Maps may not have been specifically designed for skiers but it is certainly a backcountry skiing tool worth noting.

Powder Project

Free Download

No need to lug that dense brick of a guidebook with you on an out-of-bounds ski adventure. Powder Project is the digital version with a few nifty widgets. The app has over 800 miles of worldwide backcountry ski lines mapped and annotated, with the capability for new lines to be added throughout the winter. Ski ascent and descent information is regularly updated in the trail database. Furthermore, Powder Project also works offline, providing GPS location, route information and elevation to aid in the safety of your pursuit of untracked pow. REI is the company behind Powder Project, and are the same folks that brought you the useful outdoor adventure apps like National Park Guide, Mountain Project, MTB Project and others of similar titles. Powder Project also cues up the noteworthy lines near your home location, supplying needed beta and hi-res photos. And you can chat all about your powder quests on the community forum, because the most buoyant ship is friendship.

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