iPod, iPhone applications can come in handy during ski season
January 3, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The days of MP3 players that simply play music and phones that simply make calls are long gone, and those devices now can be used for any of a million things.
The Apple iPod touch and iPhone might get hauled along for ski trips no matter what, but there are plenty of outdoor applications that can turn the otherwise useful devices into invaluable tools, whether you're shredding the backcountry or riding the groomers.
■ iTrailMap 3D
There's no shortage of applications that offer trail maps, but there are none better than iTrailMap 3D. A common problem with the other trail map apps is an inability to zoom in far enough to actually read the map. iTrailMap 3D offers plenty of zoom, however, and a map of the Steamboat Ski Area is easy to read and to navigate.
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The "3D" designation comes from a GPS feature that tracks a skier or snowboarder's progress on the mountain. At end of the day, it's easy to check the total number of vertical feet skied or ridden, as well as look at a 3-D map of the ski area with the day's path marked.
And of course, there's the best part: tapping the main button on the iPod or iPhone to quit the app only takes a second.
Get it free: iTrailMap offers most of the same features, only without the GPS component. It's a free program and a better option for an iPod touch, which lacks GPS capabilities. The maps are downloaded on both devices, so after they are acquired, neither cell phone service nor wireless access is required to view them.
■ Topo Maps
Topo Maps costs $7.99, which is a lot in the world of applications, but it's worth it. After that fee, users can download and access detailed topographic maps of nearly any area of the country.
A GPS feature can show a hiker exactly where he or she is, provided the iPhone is getting cell phone service. The maps are downloaded, though, so they can be accessed without service.
Get it free: Topos2Go Free also downloads topographic maps and as a free app is a way to avoid Topo Maps' relatively steep price tag. It's not nearly as easy to use, however.
Get it cheaper
Snocator isn't a bad app. At 99 cents, it's cheaper than iTrailMap 3D, and it offers many of the same features. Even better, by including snow reports and trail maps, it tries to do the job of two apps. The snow reports are included for the first 99 cents, but it costs an additional 99 cents per resort to access the trail maps and GPS features. Lame.
Snow report apps
■ North Face Snow Report
There are plenty of options when it comes to snow report apps. The North Face Snow Report is a favorite in a crowded field. The first page offers a quick glance at a half-dozen user-selected resorts and their most recent snowfall. One tap opens a particular resort and offers the weather conditions and a four-day forecast.
Another tap can access resort details, webcams and trail maps and a link to the most recent Twitter posts concerning that ski area.
The only problem is that it doesn't work at all without wireless or cell phone coverage, so a separate trail map app is still probably a good idea.
Get it cheaper
■ Ski & Snow Report
Ski & Snow Report is almost the same as The North Face app, but replaces Twitter updates with an active comment section. One sweet feature shows snowfall amounts from highest to lowest from across the nation, giving the powderhound on the go a heads-up as to where exactly to be going.
■ REI Snow Report
It's free, and it's still not worth the time it takes to download. Sorry, REI, no one needs a main menu link to a store locator in a snow report application.
It provides all the basics in a fine package, but they can all be had better elsewhere without the REI intrusion.
Religiously checking outdoor gear deal Web sites such as Steep and Cheap and Tramdock is as regular a part of being from Steamboat as ironically complaining about tourists. Bantler makes that hourly task easy and is the best of a bunch of applications that offer the same features.
What sets Bantler apart is the range of sites it includes. Not only does it include all the Steep and Cheap sites — the original along with ski-gear site Tramdock, snowboard site Whiskey Militia and mountain bike haven Chain Love — it also includes about a dozen other deal-a-day Web sites such as Woot, which caters to gadget geeks.
That's a steep price for any application, but Starmap is the best of a few astonishing astronomy programs. Open the application and orient yourself to a cardinal direction, and the screen shows the constellations and planets in that direction. The view changes as the night goes on, so you can always find out exactly what that bright star is.
The application also makes it easy to find any planets and other notable objects in the sky and comes packed with plenty of information about each of them.