Blog: Smart Phone Apps

Friday, December 7, 2012
Bruce Tremper

Call it the sign of the times.  It used to be every time I went to a party or gave a talk, everyone wanted to know what websites I used.  Now, they only want to know which apps I use.  Well funny you should ask because there is a plethora of new apps out on the market for displaying the avalanche adivosry and submitting observations on avalanches and snow profiles.  I have been experimenting with most of them and consulting with several groups working on new apps that will come out in the next few months or a year.  Since I'm an iPhone guy, I have to confess my ignorance of the Droid versions.  Many of these have Droid versions as well--or will soon.  Here is a short list of the apps I find useful:

Avy Lab - Free version and pro version for $14.99 from iTunes
Jessie Crocker was in an avalanche class I taught last year and he blew me away with the prototype app he had built on his own time.  He has fleshed it out and it's now available on iTunes, both a free version and a pro version for $14.99.  I've only used the free version so far.  Avy Lab allows you to record avalanches, snow observations, snow profiles and weather observations in an easy and well-thought-out interface. You can export either a simplified "mobile" version of a snow profile or a more complex full version.  You can export either to email, photo album on your phone, iTunes or--with the pro version--to the SnowPilot database--a national database of snow profiles used by many professional avalanche forecasting organizations.  You can also map out the outline of an avalanche.  You can view your observations as well as other people's obs on the Avy Lab database right from the app.


Ullr's Mobile Avalanche Safety Tools - $9.99 from iTunes
The folks from Ullr Labs have been working with us for a couple years to develop an app to record snow and avalanche observations and they have a very easy-to-use app that displays the local avalanche advisory plus you can easily record snowpack and avalanche observations. You can export them either via email, camera roll or sync it to their own database and we are working with them to have it automatically sync with our database at the Utah Avalanche Center.  It also has a cool feature where you take a photo with your phone up the slope and it captures the picture imprinted with the steepness, aspect, elevation, GPS coordinates, date and time and it is attached to the snow profile when you export the image.  

I have been experimenting with both this app and Avy Lab last season and this season to help them get the bugs worked out and they both work very well.  I'm not sure if I have a favorite.  Eventually, all our forecasters and observer network will be submitting many of their obs with one of these apps.


Instagram - Free
Yep, even good-old Instagram is a useful app for submitting observations.  After you take a photo, just put the hashtag #utavy at the end and we will see it on our Tweet Deck in our office.  You can add caption information about the avalanche you observed or triggered or general information. 


Avalanche Forecasts - Free
Seth Pollack has developed an app on his own time to display the avalanche advisories from the Utah Avalanche Center as well as from other areas in the U.S. and Canada.  He will add more regions as he gets to them.  The app also caches the advisories so you can view them in the field even if you don't have cell phone coverage.  You can also get it at  http://avalancheforecasts.com/


Mammut Avalanche Safety - Free
Mammut from Switzerland, developed this app several years ago and it keeps getting better.   It not only displays avalanche advisories from all over the world, it has a "Risk Check" feature where you can rate the risk on the slope after filling out some check boxes, an SOS feature that sends an SMS with your GPS location and/or calls a telephone number in case of emergency, along with an inclinometer and altimeter.


Theodolite - $3.99
This was actually my first avalanche app I installed several years ago.  By pointing the phone camera up or down the hill, you can line up the cross hairs with the horizon and it measures the slope steepness, aspect, elevation and GPS coordinates.  You can do a screen capture to your photo gallery on your phone.  It seemed very cool when it first came out but now several other apps have these features included.  In this version, you can also measure the height of trees and use it for general survey work.


CAC Avalanche Bulletins - Free
This is the original app from the Canadian Avalanche Center that displays their avalanche bulletins.  They are working on a new version and it should be out soon.


There are a number of new apps that will come out in the next few months including one from Backcountry Access--a company that regularly comes out with very cool and inovative products.  As these various apps come out, I will try to update the Apps list on our website, which you can find under Resources.  If you come across some good ones, please let me know.

March 28, 2013 Update:  We now have our own free Utah Avalanche Center Mobile App for iPhones and IPads ( for now - sorry, Android folks).  Check it out here.  P Diegel

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