App from Park City-based Avatech means mountains of data is a click away |

App from Park City-based Avatech means mountains of data is a click away

Information is valuable.

And to Avatech, a Park City-based company that designs mountain safety technologies, information about mountain snow conditions shouldn’t be reserved just for professionals in the ski industry or for those who study avalanches.

The company recently launched Avanet, a mobile and web app that allows recreational skiers and snowboarders to crowdsource mountain safety information.

Avatech had previously developed a device that allows users to analyze snowpack by simply sticking it into the snow, rather than digging a pit. That device — and the information gleaned from it — is primarily for ski areas and people who study avalanches. However, much of the information users share on Avanet — while still valuable to ski areas hungry for as much data as possible — is for everyone.

"We feel any skier should have the power to submit observations and help the community," said Thomas Laakso, brand president of Avatech.

Among other features, Avanet lets users look at maps of mountains and ski areas all over the world. They can view information others have uploaded about specific terrain such as powder conditions and wind speed and any observed avalanches.

"So if I’m heading over to someplace in France, I can check out what’s happening over there," Laakso said. "Maybe I want to look at what happened in the past week. Before I even go out and get more local knowledge, I can find out that, OK, two days ago there was a lot of wind, so what should I be looking for out there? What are the dangerous things?"

And because users can access the app on their smartphones, they can upload information of their own in real-time — and even post photos and videos of the conditions — as well as access instant updates when they’re on the mountain.

"You can see that, ‘Something just happened that I should be aware of,’" Laakso said. "I may have checked the forecast in the morning and know what I’m looking for. But that new information will affect my decision-making right now. Maybe I find out that something happened on an east-facing slope at 8,000 feet and it’s like, ‘Wait a minute. That’s like where I’m at right now. Maybe I should change my behaviors a little bit.’"

The app also lets users create routes based on the safety information and chart their progress once they hit the slopes. And they can share those routes with other users of Avanet, which has a pricing structure ranging from free to $10 a month.

"Looking at just a map is kind of hard. It’s kind of like, ‘What am I looking at here?’" Laakso said. "But with this, you can create your own route. It’s a little bit like Google Maps. It’ll tell you how long it will take and give you a lot of metrics."

Laakso is quick to remind people that Avatech does not replace avalanche forecasts and that common sense is an essential ingredient in avoiding danger. But the hope is for Avanet to help make skiers and snowboarders more aware and knowledgeable about the risks.

"If we do our job right, it’s just getting people to talk," he said. "That’s half the battle is to say, ‘Hey, let’s talk about the risks out there. Let’s discuss it with each other and share it with one another.’ Hopefully that’s going to help people make better decisions in the backcountry."

To Laakso, Avanet represents "the tip of the iceberg of what we can be doing with a crowdsourced platform." Nonetheless, the winter mountain sports community has been quick to embrace it.

"We’ve shown some people and they’ve been like, ‘This is the best thing since snow,’" he said. "There are certain communities that this is a huge step forward for. At the same time, it’s not even something they’ve been clamoring for — if you don’t know what you don’t have, it’s hard to clamor for it. This is brand new."

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