If, like me, you like to spend a few days a year risking life and limb slithering down snowy hills strapped to a pair of skis or a snowboard, then there are a multitude of tracking applications available for your Android or IOS smartphone. One of the more well-known is Ski Tracks, which aims to collect statistics from a day in the snow. For the purposes of this review, I used the IOS version of the app and used it to track my skiing. Ski Tracks will also track activities such as snowboarding, telemark, sledding and so on.
Upon firing up the app for the first time, the user is given the option to back-up or restore tracking data. This requires the creation of an account with Ski Tracks to access their cloud storage. It is possible to save tracking data manually, but getting it off the iPhone requires jumping through a few hoops and using iTunes document sharing. Using Ski Tracks’ cloud back-up is certainly convenient, but I would have preferred to be able to choose my own cloud provider (such as OneDrive or DropBox).
The backup option can be skipped and the remarkably straightforward interface is shown, giving metrics of the current track, or viewing previous tracks. All key functions are available through large, easy to use buttons with functions to start and stop tracking, and view a map in tracking mode. Some additional reports are also available when viewing a paused or stored track. It is also possible to take photos within the app, which are automatically linked to the location on the track where they were taken, and control the music player of your device (although I didn’t use this functionality – I prefer to be able hear someone racing down the slope behind me rather than carving along to the deeply unfashionable prog-rock from the 1970s that lurks in my library).
Ski Tracks is an application that can be started at the beginning of the ski day, left to its own devices, and stopped at the end. Obviously, the interface can be checked any time to see how the user is doing (“Wow – I went so fast on that run… (checks Ski Tracks)… Oh, maybe I didn’t…”) but the real benefit comes with checking out the report at the end of the day. Since Ski Tracks makes use of the GPS of the phone to track location, one would expect having it run in the background would be a battery killer. In my tests on an iPhone 6, I saw my battery go from 100% to 75% during a 5 hour tracking session, which is pretty impressive and includes me using other apps on the phone, such as the notoriously power hungry Facebook application. Those trying to avoid roaming charges will also be pleased to note that Ski Tracks does not require a data connection in normal use (unless one wants to use the mapping functions or share tracks.)
Ski Tracks will detect ski runs through spotting the use of ski lifts (presumably because you’re unlikely to spend much time ascending on an average run, unless something goes very, very wrong) which worked well for me, although is not so good when runs are split by, for example, a stop at a piste-side bar.
One sorely underdeveloped feature in the app is the map functionality. This shows the ski track over a map and allows the day’s activities to be played back to show the progress made over the mountain. To be honest, this felt a little gimmicky and was further let down by the use of Apple’s own maps. Unlike Google Maps, which contain piste information for many popular resorts, the best the IOS implementation can do is show the track over some satellite imagery. More useful would be the ability to download a piste map and implementing navigation to allow a course to be plotted.
To KMZ or not KMZ
While the inbuilt mapping in the Ski Tracks app has a few limitations, these are overcome thanks to the ease with which the recorded tracks may be exported, in standard KMZ (to include low resolution versions of any photos taken), KML and GPX formats. These can be emailed, shared or uploaded to a cloud provider (such as OneDrive) and then easily imported into an application such as Google Earth, which gives a far greater degree of flexibility than Ski Tracks’ own mapping functionality.
Ski Tracks is a well thought out application that succeeds at its primary goal: tracking activity on the slopes. During a week of testing I encountered no problems with it whatsoever – all runs were accurately recorded, and playing back the tracks with linked photos is a great way of remembering a holiday. There is scope for improvement, particularly with regard to mapping (although it is understandable that the app developer would choose to use the maps built into the phone) but otherwise I have no hesitation in recommending this app as part of the standard toolkit for any winter sports holiday.