Why are digital maps replacing the classic paper maps at ski resorts?

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For most skiers, resorts are not vast open fields to explore, where navigating around the mountains can be as tricky as a public transport system. Usually, if we want to get from point A to point B we just have to know which slopes and lifts will take us there, keeping in mind their operating hours and whether they are open or closed.

The topographical details of the terrain are less important in this context, so it’s easy to understand why ski resort maps have traditionally been based on artistic renderings showing a rather realistic 3D view of the mountains. And the really crucial topographical information about the gradient and vertical of the slopes is represented using a colour-coding system that practically everyone knows, and by showing the elevation at the top and bottom of lifts.

However, in today’s world of digital maps and new technologies, these types of paper maps with absolutely no interactivity are no longer the best option. There are now digital solutions that not only adapt to these particular needs, but also have many other benefits, described below:

#1 Reducing paper use. Sustainability. 

Reducing paper consumption helps protect and improve the environment and fight back the climate change that is having such a significant impact on the sector. If the more than 3,000 ski resorts in the world decided not to use paper, we would use over 100 million fewer maps each year, which are ultimately single-use and not often recycled.

#2 Changes can be made at any time.

Digital information can be changed at any time from a single location (typically a private back-end Geographic Information System (GIS)). Once a map has been changed, a new copy of the original map is made and all users will see the updated information in real time. This simple task in the offline paper world would require disposing of all printed maps, reprinting them, and redistributing them around the resort. This process occurs at least once at the beginning of each season.
Example of a private back-end Geographic Information System (GIS)

#3. No storage. Optimal ‘contactless’ distribution.

The distribution mechanisms for digital maps are more effective and efficient because there is no physical storage required whatsoever. Many users can access maps simultaneously through their own mobile devices, tablets, or computers. With a properly dimensioned online server the distribution capacity is practically limitless, and the fact that users can see the maps on their own electronic devices reduces unnecessary contacts at the resort, helping to maintain the social distancing required due to the COVID outbreak.

#4. Printable. Only as many as needed

If users still want to use a paper map, they can print exactly as many copies as they need of the original digital map at any time. One situation would be wanting to have the map in paper format in case there is no mobile service, or a device runs out of battery life. In any case, it is the users who would be printing the map, not the resort, which is another way to reduce contacts.

Digital Map printed on paper

#5. Cost savings.

Moving towards digital maps and reducing the number of paper maps is not only sustainable but also entails significant cost savings. The savings could vary based on whether it is decided to completely eliminate paper maps, or simply to start reducing them and incentivising skiers and mountain enthusiasts to access maps on their mobile devices, through the resort’s App or website.

#6. Multi-device. Better promotion.

Digital maps are accessible through multiple devices and adapt to different screen formats and input mechanisms (touchscreen, mouse, or keyboard). Users can access maps on their mobile devices, easily share them with family and friends, or access them directly on the touchscreens and televisions located at key points around the resort, including hotel reception areas and restaurants.

3D Maps available for mobile, website and touchscreen

#7 Interactiveness. Perfect for linking to slope information, routes, services, and local businesses

From the user’s perspective, interactiveness is one of the main benefits of digital maps. Interactiveness makes it possible, for instance, to include links directly from maps to the websites and booking pages of hotels, restaurants, and equipment hire shops around the resort, which are shown on the map. There can also be links to the descriptions and details of slopes and marked routes. 

#8 Geolocation. Improved contextualisation. More safety.

On mobile phones, digital maps can use GPS positioning to show the user’s location on the map and share locations with other users, providing better contextualisation and undoubtedly improving orientation and safety on the slopes.

#9 Real-time information

The variability of slope and lift openings means that paper maps are sometimes not useful or sufficient for skiers. Digital maps, on the other hand, have updated information on which slopes and lifts are open and closed at any time, in addition to snow reports, weather, and webcams for more complete information on current resort conditions.

#10 Offline functionality

Mobile applications have the option to download maps on a smartphone, so that even when there is no Wi-Fi or 4G service, as often happens in the mountains, you will have no problems looking at the resort maps in offline mode. When there is no network connection, only the information that uses real-time data is not updated.

#11 More realistic and attractive 3D maps

Classic hand-drawn pictograms can be modernised through 3D mapping technology with results that are both attractive and understandable for beginner and intermediate skiers and use real topographical data that make them interesting for more expert skiers as well. It is often useful to have more detailed information to better understand the terrain for skiing off-piste, and mountain enthusiasts who do alpine ski and snowshoe routes in winter or go hiking in summer generally stay away from lifts and marked slopes.

 Example of a 3D Map of a ski resort in winter & summer

Skitude’s contribution to the sector

Since we first had the idea to start connecting skiers and mountain enthusiasts through the Skitude Mobile App in 2012, we saw that it was essential for the app to include a new type of maps based on mobile technologies that improve orientation and safety on the slopes, as traditional paper maps with pictograms cannot contextualise users on the slopes and are not realistic enough topographically to meet the needs of more expert skiers. In this sense, Skitude has both a large community of skiers providing geolocation data and a team of experts in different mapping techniques, who have made it possible for the Skitude app to currently include more than 2,500 3D maps of ski resorts worldwide. These maps not only provide interactive access to complete contextual information, but also let users watch visualisations of their runs tracked with the GPS tracker.
Skitude App: More than 2,500 resorts with digital maps and visualisation of runs in 3D

Moreover, the ski resorts and the community have encouraged us to continue developing this new generation of maps, taking them beyond their initial purpose on the Skitude app. Skitude now offers one of the most complete and competitive digital map solutions for ski resorts and mountain destinations on the market, with dozens of international resorts trusting in us:

  • 3D interactive maps (Website and App): 3D interactive maps provide realistic 360° views of the entire domain, in both winter and summer. This format is accessible through the website and mobile applications and makes it possible to quickly see the services offered to visitors and boost interactions before and during ski trips.
  • 2D interactive maps (Website and App): As an alternative or complement to the 3D map, we convert the classic slope map into a 100% interactive digital map for all digital media (application, website, screens). It can be used to search, filter, and find information about every facility and point of interest, look up the status of slopes and lifts in real time, and locate yourself on the map even without an Internet connection.
Example of Grandvalira's 2D Interactive Map powered by Skitude
  • 2.5D paper maps: Maps created from the real 3D digitalisation of the mountains surrounding the resort. These maps are a clear replacement for the hand-drawn pictogram maps, with the benefit of being much easier and cheaper to change and synchronise with the other digital maps included in the complete solution. Map providing a very realistic view of the resort, where visitors can easily recognize and locate basic elements and services. This map is included on the resort’s website, the App, and optionally can be printed out and distributed manually at the destination.
  • GPS navigator with voice guide (App): How long will it take me to get to the summit restaurant? What slopes and lifts should I take? Skitude’s GPS navigation system is an innovative orientation service that we built at the request of ski resorts that have large and complex skiable domains that can require the help of a virtual assistant. This service is available through mobile phones, and helps improve safety and orientation on the mountain

Example of the App with GPS Navigator and voice guide powered by Skitude

  • Large touchscreens: Touchscreen units designed for tourism offices, hotels, etc., showing the 3D interactive maps of the surrounding area throughout the year.

Video example of 3D Maps on large touchscreens


The benefits to ski resorts of reducing the use of classic paper maps with pictograms in favour of new technologies and digital maps are clear, and their future is undoubtedly headed towards a digital transformation process that is accelerating each season, thanks to specialist providers like Skitude offering very complete and competitive solutions for skiers, mountain enthusiasts, and the managers of ski resorts and mountain destinations.

Posted by

Marc Bigas

Marc Bigas

Skitude CEO & Co-founder
Skier and experienced Co-Founder with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and service industry for over 15 years.