Jonathon Spitzer, American Mountain Guide/IFMGA Guide, reviews AvaTech’s SP1.
The 2015 ski season was not the best, as many of us suffered from a lack of snow and not many powder days. With the lack of snow, this allowed more persistent weak layers to form in our snowpack. Most parts of the Western US still had some major avalanche cycles this season, with several distinct persistent weak layers. Working as the head guide for Ruby Mountain Heli-Ski in the Great Basin, NV, I find myself living in the snow for three months in a row. As ski guides, we are constantly assessing our snowpack structure to provide the safest and best experience possible for our guests. This year, I partnered up with AvaTech to try out the SP1 and the AvaNet software.
Starting off with a review of the SP1, it does not predict avalanches or tell you what to ski or ride—thankfully, as many of us would be without jobs! I found the SP1 useful in the field to help gather large quantities of data while also acting as a tool to back up my decision-making process. I could easily deploy the SP1 and gain a big picture of the snowpack structure in matter of seconds. I’m a bit of an “old school” snow person, and I like to have my head in the snow. But after a dozen snow pits comparing data with the SP1, I quickly found this tool to be much more accurate than my trained eyes and hands (with over a decade-plus of snow-science experience).
So, how did I apply using this new tool to Ruby Mountain Heli-Ski? What I found is the SP1 helped me target where I wanted to dig my snow pits on concerning aspect, elevation, terrain, and drainage. Over the course of a day and weeks the SP1 saved me lots of time helping me find and track persistent weak layers better and faster then my “old school” snow pit strategy. I never found myself wanting to change our “run list” in the field. Instead the SP1 offered us more data at the end of the resulting in a more comprehensive guide meeting, in turning leading to better and safer ski/riding conditions for our guests. In addition the SP1 not only provides critical and real-time information about the snowpack, it also enhanced communication between our guides operating together in the field.
The SP1 only weighs 530 grams and collapses down to 49cm. I carried this new tool in the avalanche compartment of my ski pack; it was always easy to deploy to its full length of 147cm. I never had any issues with the battery life, and replaced the batteries about once every other week. To upload the data to my computer, I used the USB port to download information. Many professionals also used the Bluetooth data transfer via AvaTech’s smartphone app, which is an exceptionally fast and easy option. Overall, I found the SP1 to be very durable. The SP1 is not designed for recreationists and does not replace education or good decision-making and terrain assessment in the field.
While the SP1 is extremely powerful as a standalone proactive safety technology, what’s even more exciting is the geospatial AvaNet network which combines SP1 profiles with other crowd sourced mountain safety observations, such as avalanches and manual snowpits. For local or regional guides, it is now possible to access a single sharing platform from anywhere on the planet, with a common language of shared observations. Next winter, AvaTech will release an even more full featured AvaNet with functionality on the mobile phone, numerous additional observation types, route planning and tracking features, and exciting terrain visualization software as well. Whether or not you purchase an SP1, it seems like AvaNet would be a great investment for any guiding observation.
AvaTech has an office in Park City, UT and Chamonix, France. I found the technical and customer support from AvaTech to be incredibly helpful and they are easy to work with. The customer service representatives for AvaTech helped answer all my questions and always responded in a timely manner. As of the 2015 winter AvaTech hardware and software products are being used by 500 organizations in 34 countries around the world. The SP1 and AvaNet are currently being used by ski resorts, heli-ski guides, cat ski guides, avalanche forecasters, climbing rangers, transportation departments, mines, power companies and the military.
Bottom line, this is the tool for you want to efficiently gather data, share it with others and compare it to your real-time observations. In addition, there is rumor of an updated version “SP2” that will have more features based on feedback from the professional community.
SP1 Technical Specs: