FATMAP app brings interactive 3D trail maps to Copper, Keystone | SummitDaily.com

FATMAP app brings interactive 3D trail maps to Copper, Keystone

Ski maps might as well be relics of the last ice age.

For decades and decades — at least since skiers started building chairlifts and trails — ski maps have been entirely 2D. They're big and bulky and illustrated by hand, even now, and most fold into impossibly small squares that are sure to get soaked. Mobile versions on the Sherpa and Epic Mix apps are slightly more user friendly for the digital age, but they're still no more than glorified PDFs with little information on terrain pitch, exposure and true-to-life features, like boulders drops and couloirs. It's like multi-million dollar ski areas are using road atlases when the rest of the world is using Google Earth.

And it's not just a Rocky Mountain phenomenon. Ski maps are the same antiquated keepsakes across the world, including world-class resorts like Chamonix in France and Verbier in Switzerland.

Until three years ago. That's when Misha Gopaul and Dave Cowell, two entrepreneurs and avid ski mountaineers based in the U.K., decided it was time for ski maps to enter the modern age. Both have backgrounds in the GIS world and soon started building an app made by skiers, for skiers, using up-to-date satellite imagery to paint the best picture of their favorite European resorts.

“You can’t really explain what a resort is like on a 2D piece of paper and we want to help people make the most of a trip when they’re paying so much just to be there.”Matt Doyle

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Last season, the two entrepreneurs launched the beta version of FATMAP. It's their dream version of a trail map, complete with interactive features like 3D terrain mapping, topographical readings and other musts for skiers, whether they're total newcomers or seasoned vets. They started with three pilot sites — Verbier, Chamonix and Zermatt, another Swiss resort — where terrain varies from mellow glades and bowls to incredibly steep and jagged peaks.

After just a single season the founders knew they found the winning formula. In one week the app drew 10,000-plus registered users, which was enough to expand beyond the three test sites to other European resorts. Next up were the North American ski hills, and so the company tapped their fellow ski-tech entrepreneur, Matt Doyle of Denver, to oversee the American and Canadian expansion.

"A lot of people are doing these ski apps, but our entire focus is more than that," said Doyle, who also launched a terrain app, Ski Genius, a few years before joining FATMAP. "It's about navigation. Right now a resort like A-Basin will have the same sized map as Vail. You can't really explain what a resort is like on a 2D piece of paper and we want to help people make the most of a trip when they're paying so much just to be there."

Best maps around

Like its godfather, Google Earth, FATMAP takes satellite imagery and superimposes it over 2D maps to create 3D renderings of terrain. It shows just how steep a trail is, where it leads, how it connects with other trails and what type of terrain surrounds the entire area.

The first hurdle was finding satellite imagery. The founders spent two years trying to court providers, most of which are more interested in selling their proprietary images to high-end clients like the military. Finally, they partnered with two companies, one Longmont and one in France, to supply the skin the app stretches over wire-frame bones.

The final map is a combination of three models: an elevation model (the wire-frame bones) taken from summertime images; a winter imagery model with terrain like cornices and chutes; and map features taken directly from those old, outdated resort maps, along with info sourced from local experts who know the terrain.

Here in Summit County, FATMAP has already created full terrain maps for Copper and Keystone. Arapahoe Basin is in the works and Breckenridge will come next season. Again, it comes down to those tricky satellite images: Oddly enough, there are no up-to-date photos of Breck's terrain.

"The only one we're missing is Breck and that's a tough pill to swallow," Doyle said. "But by the end of the season or next year at the latest we'll absolutely have it. That's such a big resort."

As a beta app, FATMAP was made for a very niche audience: hardcore backcountry and high-alpine skiers who needed pinpoint info — and knew how to use it. When the app launched in the U.S., Doyle made it a priority to streamline the app for day-to-day resort users.

"How do you take a European app and tweak it for a North American audience, where the terrain is so different and the resorts are so different and even the skiing is different?" Doyle said. "Right now it's geared to the hardcore skier. We want to be able to accommodate everyone, from the hardcore skiers to the people who come out once or twice a year."

The founders also want to expand beyond winter with another app, tentatively named "Hike," that will give backpackers and other trekkers the same platform for summer trails. Until then, they hope to partner directly with stateside resorts and possibly link with apps like Epic Mix.

"I think the landscape will change substantially in the next few months, when ski resorts start making their budgets for next year and see we have something that works," Doyle said of upcoming partnerships. "There aren't too many people who are getting into the ski industry for the money, at least at this level. Most people get into it because they love it and I did the same thing."

FATMAP app

What: A mobile app that pairs satellite imagery with ski area trail maps to create an interactive, 3D model of the terrain, including pitch, location, exposure and more

Supported Colorado resorts: Keystone, Copper Mountain, Vail, Steamboat, Winter Park, Crested Butte, all Aspen-area resorts

Future Colorado resorts: Breckenridge and Beaver Creek

Features: Interactive trail maps with descriptions and trail ratings; real-time 3D mapping for in-bounds and backcountry terrain; downloadable content for areas with no mobile service; run tracking with option to share on social media.

Platforms: iOs and Android mobile

Cost: Free

For more info, see http://www.fatmap.com.