Summary of a day skiing with Ski Tracks (map view)

Testing ski apps in the French Alps

I’ve spend a week in Courchevel (French Alps), and besides seeing our 3 years old daughter discover snow, and proudly wearing her Piou-piou club medal on the slopes at the end of the week, it was also a good opportunity to ski again, enjoy good mountain food, but also to test various iOS skiing apps.

I skied regularly  between 3 and 12-ish, but it was only the third time doing it in the past 10 years or so. Needless to say I’m not an expert, but as a data geek, and with a recent interest in sport+technology and quantified-self, I’ve tried a few apps to monitor my week. Here’s a quick summary of what I’ve tried, mostly about two apps that I’ve particularly enjoyed: Ski Tracks and Trace Snow.

A panoramic view of Mont-Blanc from "La cave des creux"
A panoramic view of Mont-Blanc from “La cave des creux”

An iPhone and 5 apps in the pocket

To start with, here are the five apps I’ve installed on the first day: Edge, Runkeeper, Ski+, Ski Tracks, and Trace Snow. In order to monitor each day, I wanted to have an experience as frictionless as possible: launch the app in the morning when I’m heading to the cableway, and stopping it at the end of the day. Hopefully with runs / lifts auto-detection, metrics on each run, etc. Pro-tip: don’t put your phone in the same pocket as your hands-free ski-pass, or the pass won’t activate when you’re at the gates.

As expected (since they’re not tailored for Ski), Runkeeper did a pretty bad job at it, simply monitoring the distance with its GPS, but unable to auto-split laps, and most important to differentiate lifts from runs.

I was not really able to experience Ski+ results, as I’ve figured out when looking at it mid-day, that it only recorded a partial run, and stopped recording. A second try did the same, and I stopped using it after a day.

Then came Edge. The design is pretty solid, and very similar to the Strava iOS app, with a simple start button on the home screen, and some analytics at the end of the day. However, besides the limited analytics, those were also wrongly measured (in terms of runs vs lifts, and speed).

Keeping 2 of them after day 1

The two others apps I’ve tested and that I’ll review next, Ski Tracks and Trace Snow, kept running on the phone for the next days. By being available on Android, it was also a fun way to compare metrics at the end of the day.

They both made a very good job at automatically splitting runs and lift without any input, so I didn’t have to think about them during the day – one of my main criteria. Regarding metrics, both apps gather similar analytics (speed, distance, vertical, etc.), with very similar values (at least with an acceptable difference for a skier like me).

The big contrast, besides the community aspect of Trace Snow, is their interface. It is a bit like comparing a Geocities site of 1998 with the last flat-design website from a hype start-up.

Ski Tracks

As old-school as it can be, I kept using Ski Tracks during the week. I enjoyed that they can include all relevant data in a single day-screen, and really liked the altitude profile on the screen, showing a different dynamics than the usual maps, also available in a different screen.

Summary of a day skiing with Ski Tracks
Summary of a day skiing with Ski Tracks
Summary of a day skiing with Ski Tracks (map view)
Summary of a day skiing with Ski Tracks (map view)

Regarding the map, it’s actually disturbing to see your ski tracks on a Google map with no snow at all. I wish they’d take their satellite pictures of mountains during the winter! In addition to full view, the app also display statistics for a single run.

Analytics of a single run with Ski Tracks
Analytics of a single run with Ski Tracks

It is basic, and the interface is indeed very old-school, but it does the job very well, with no fuss. Sharing on Facebook is available on the paid version, but once again it’s not really up-to-date with the latest technologies, simply posting pictures in a dedicated album, without using OpenGraph to display nicer stories in the feed.

Sharing Ski Tracks logs on Facebook
Sharing Ski Tracks logs on Facebook

Trace Snow

Last but not least, Trace Snow. A splendid design, reminding me of Strava (like Edge before), and a user interface that allows to quickly swipe from one run to another, with all metrics (and a map) in one page. A nice metric, not available in Ski Tracks, is the Sustained Speed, which is a better indicator than the average speed, especially if you regularly stop when running in groups

Summary of a day skiing with Trace Snow
Summary of a day skiing with Trace Snow
Summary of a day skiing with Trace Snow (map view)
Summary of a day skiing with Trace Snow (map view)

A single run provides the same view, also identifying lift names – which is useful at the end of the day. However, I missed the altitude graph (overall and per run) of Ski Tracks, probably one of the reason I kept using both.

Analytics of a single run with Trace Snow
Analytics of a single run with Trace Snow

As for the Facebook sharing, it doesn’t use OpenGraph neither, but uploads a “Session sheet” picture that redirects to the Web view of the session.

And this is a core difference between both apps. While Ski Tracks is “just an app”, Trace Snow is a full platform, with a social network, a gamification aspect (earn badges a-la Foursquare), and more; together with a Web interface so that anyone can browse your statistics for a run, a week or a full ski season.

The Trace Snow web view of a session
The Trace Snow web view of a session

The comparison with Strava that I’ve made before hence is not limited to the design only, but to the platform aspect. Even though I haven’t make much use of it, I think it has real potential for ski amateurs and professional to log their data, compete with each others, and more; as Strava is doing for bike and running.

What about next year?

I’m excited to see what’s next for both apps – and others plus newcomers – as I’m already impatient about my next ski trip, to run more slopes, and gather more data!

Actually, it’s likely that I’ll try the Recon Snow2, for their live data but also make use of their dashboard with complete analytics, including slopes names, colours, and more, as you can see in this ski trip and gadget review from DC Rainmaker. Plus, I’ve just ordered a Polar V800, so I’m looking forward to see what their ski profile is about.

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