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Morgan Timms / Taos News

A new smartphone app, onX Backcountry, seeks to centralize weather data and avalanche forecasts to allow skiers and riders to avoid dangerous conditions. The apps creators have partnered with 25 avalanche centers throughout the United States, including Taos Avalanche Center.

Being aware of your surroundings is helpful to remember no matter where you are, but when skiing or snowboarding in the backcountry, that discipline becomes critically important—and perhaps life-saving.

A partnership new smartphone app "onX Backcountry" is forming with avalanche centers across the country, including with Taos Avalanche Center, is aimed at giving skiers and riders another tool to stay safe this season.

The app, which costs $29.99 per year, allows users to toggle between a "snow mode" and a "trail mode," which display local forecasts that include wind direction and speed, temperatures, avalanche forecasts, sunrise and sunset times and expected precipitation, all of which can be saved offline.

The goal is to create a safer backcountry environment with the help of downloadable, offline technology and on-the-ground reports from local avalanche centers.

As an uncertain winter approaches, mountain-goers are eyeing mostly bare mountains as late season warmth and a recent dry spell have resulted in a near non-existent early snowpack. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t preparing for a time when the mountains turn white later in the season.

New data from the National Avalanche Center that shows use of their site (avalanche.org is up 40 percent and purchases of backcountry equipment are up 140 percent in the past year, suggesting increased interest and possible participation in venturing outside of resort areas.

With partnerships between onX Backcountry and so far 25 avalanche centers across the country, the mobile application and its affiliates hope to help skiers and riders spending their time on undeveloped slopes to create a seamless and safe experience.

Part of the app’s goal for the month of November (Avalanche Awareness Month) is to donate $10 from every new onX Backcountry membership to the subscriber’s local avalanche center of choice.

Locally, the company is working with Andy Bond, the founder of Taos Avalanche Center. Bond said he is happy to be working with a company that prides itself on making sure backcountry users are safe, though as of last week he was still waiting to test out the new app for himself. Bond is optimistic the app will help as more people come to Northern New Mexico to seek a backcountry skiing or riding experience.

“Backcountry is finally starting to happen down here in Northern New Mexico. There’s more availability, and we’re also getting a lot of people traveling from other areas who will ski in-bounds for a couple days then go ski backcountry," said Bond.

“Last winter, we saw unprecedented backcountry use, contributing to one of the worst avalanche seasons on record across the West,” said Molly Stocklein, Senior Communications Manager at onXmaps.

“With winter right around the corner, it’s crucial that our backcountry snow community has the [tools] they need to make smart decisions…and our avalanche centers have the resources they need to deliver,” added Stocklein.

Bond said having the knowledge and having a plan is crucial when skiing in the backcountry, and even when skiing steeper inbound terrain. In 2019, a rare inbounds avalanche at Taos Ski Valley near Kachina Peak killed two skiers.

“It’s important to have a plan, the right tools — whether that’s your beacon, shovel, probe, communication — having a plan, getting the forecast, and arming yourself with all the resources that are available is the most important,” said Bond.

“It’s just about understanding where you are and whether you need a rescue,” he said of ways the app can help. “It will help you tour-plan and figure out what kind of terrain and aspects you’ll be getting into.” 

Joe Risi, senior marketing director for onX Backcountry (which is derived from the popular app onX Hunt), said by working with local avalanche centers, they are creating a in-depth database of backcountry trails.

“By working with the American Avalanche Association directly, and working with avalanche centers, we're able to pull in up to date, daily data from people like Andy [Bond] on the ground that funnels directly in our app for anyone to access,” said Risi.

While working in the field, avalanche center employees will create reports to publish through the National Avalanche Center, which then “gets extrapolated and finds its way into our app.”

Risi said he felt it was important now more than ever to get their app off the ground. With 982 human triggered avalanches in Colorado in the 2021 season, and February listed as the deadliest avalanche month in more than a decade nationally, Risi said the timing was crucial.

“Nine out of 10 avalanche events are caused by the victim or someone in the victim’s party, so it’s not just random avalanches happening out of the blue,” he said.

It’s also important to bring attention to the 25 avalanche centers who monitor the events nationally, Risi added. “There's just a lack of forecasters. And so really, for us, we're trying to try to put some light and focus on these forecasters like Andy.”

To start a free trial or buy the app and support the Taos Avalanche Center, go to onxmaps.com/backcountry/app

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