While there are plenty of apps that will help users track ski conditions, find the best powder, and even track your runs on the slopes, a mobile smartphone app probably isn’t the best way to call for help during mountainside emergency.
With many skiers now hitting the slopes with smartphones, there has been a burgeoning market for apps that promise skiers a call for help when an accident or disaster occurs. However, the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) has warned skiers should not rely on apps as a means to reach rescuers following an avalanche.
The CAC last week called out three European-made apps including iSis Intelligent (Mountain) Rescue System, Snog Avalanche Buddy and SnoWhere. There three apps are available now for the iOS and/or Android devices.
According to the CAC, these are presented as economical alternatives to avalanche transceivers – the devices that are recommended for backcountry skiers, and which can transmit a skier’s location should an accident or avalanche occur. With most backcountry transceivers users can be tracked even if they’re buried under the snow by an avalanche.
The CAC has stated there are a number of issues with the technology in the smartphone apps, and the two main issues are the compatibility and the frequency range.
All avalanche transceivers are required to conform to the international standard of 457 kHz and, regardless of brand, can be used to search and find other transceivers. The app makers also apparently operate on proprietary systems.
“Not only are these new apps incapable of connecting with other avalanche transceivers, they are also incompatible between themselves, so one type of app can’t find another,” said the CAC Executive Director Gilles Valade via a statement.
In addition, there is the issue of the range that mobile smartphones can reasonably provide, especially in remote areas where getting a signal can be a major problem. This is why the 457 kHz standard remains the de facto standard for transceivers. It is able to transmit in remote areas, can transmit very well through dense snow, and is not deflected by objects such as trees and rocks. It is further noted for being very reliable and accurate.
“None of the various communication methods used by these apps come close to that standard,” added Valade. “WiFi and Bluetooth signals are significantly weakened when passing through snow, and easily deflected by the solid objects we expect to see in avalanche debris. And the accuracy of a GPS signal is nowhere near the precision required for finding an avalanche victim. ”
Other notable issues include the battery life of mobile devices, the ruggedness and reliability, as well as the outstanding issue of interference, something that is very common in the backcountry.
“These apps are being actively marketed as software that turns a smartphone into an avalanche transceiver but the CAC has serious concerns about their vulnerabilities,” says Valade. “We are warning all backcountry users to not use any of these apps in place of an avalanche transceiver.”