Whistler programmer launches online avalanche tool 

Online service lets guides log observations, share data

By Andrew Mitchell

Every on-snow backcountry company in the world keeps extensive records of snow conditions and avalanche activity in their tenure areas, logging everything from snow depth and stability to the occurrence of natural and man-made avalanches. Building those databases helps them to choose the safest places to be at any given time, as well as the places and aspects to avoid in certain circumstances.

Daniel Curry, a database consultant and backcountry enthusiast, noticed that most guide companies have come up with their own recording systems, sometimes using programs like Excel and Word, and sometimes just filling out and filing sheets of paper. After talking to a few guides, he quickly recognized the potential to develop a web-based database program called Avert that makes it easy for guides and backcountry professionals to record access their observations, and ultimately make safer decisions when heading into the backcountry.

He emphasizes that the website, www.avert.ca, is not meant to replace the InfoEx bulletins posted by the Canadian Avalanche Association, but is another way for guides, backcountry professionals, and expert backcountry users to log and share backcountry data.

“Every aspect of snow and weather data, for any given area, can be logged and compared and charted,” said Curry. “You can actually use it to send forms to the CAA and share them with other users, and (the database) can do calculations that you can’t do in the field, like snow density, because everything is automated.”

Backcountry users can enter and access information from any computer and even from a range of portable devices when there is cellular service in an area. Everything is logged, charted, and, once the features added, plugged into an interactive mapping system. According to Curry, the database is simple to use, and includes fields for every single parameter used by guides in the backcountry — more measurements than are used by organizations like the Canadian Avalanche Association.

“It’s one of those things where the more information you have the better, and (Avert) puts all kinds of information at your fingertips. The more information you feed into it, the more you get out of it.”

For example, Curry uses the example of a guide for a snowcat company who goes away for a week. “When they get back they can easily look back at a week’s worth of snow data, that will help them decide where the best conditions are and the best places to ski that day,” said Curry. “Ideally they could use this to spend more time in the field and in the backcountry and less time recording all that day’s data at night, and then going over their collected data every morning before heading out.”

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