Understanding Travel Behavior In Avalanche Terrain:   A Crowd Sourced Approach


This project aims to collect GPS location information and survey responses from backcountry skiers and riders to better understand what types of terrain decision we make. Our focus is on backcountry skiers and riders of all abilities and experience. You need not be an expert backcountry skier to participate in this research.

A video summarizing our project can be see here:



If you are interested in taking part in this project and sharing your GPS ski track information and responding to a few simple questions, then follow the easy steps below (or download this PDF):

Please note: that steps 1 and 2 only need to be done once. Steps 3 to 5 can be done for every trip thereafter.

1. Sign-up to participate

Complete the demographic and participant survey so that we know who you are. You only need to do this survey once. Click on the link to start the survey: https://montana.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_9vmxWuvgch1KDu5


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2. Download the application “SkiTracks” by CoreCoders to track your trips.

This application costs US$0.99, but will also be your “ticket” to win spot prizes!

Once you have downloaded and installed this application on your GPS enabled smart phone or tablet, then go into the settings and setup your email address preferences. If you need help see the user guide online (http://www.corecoders.com/applications/ski-tracks/). 

Please note:Step 1 and 2 only need to be completed once. Steps 3-5 need to be followed for every trip that you want to submit to us.

3. Track your trips.

Every time you go out for a backcountry trip, simply start this application and click “START” and log your track.

While you are out, take photos of any key decision points – e.g. Did you see an avalanche and then decide to ski elsewhere (take a photo of the avalanche). Did you dig a snowpit and find out more information about the nature of the instability (take a photo of the snowpit). Or did you stop and discuss the route ahead (take a photo of the route ahead). Each photo is geo-referenced, so we can see where you were when you made this decision or discovered new information. You can do this for both the up and down tracks.

Once you have finished your trip, end by saving it. When you are back in cell phone or internet coverage, please send us your track and any photos (go into “History”, click on your track and share via email). Please email a GPX file to tracks@montana.edu. You can set this as the default destination.

4. Automatic reply

Once we receive your track (as a GPX file), we will send you an automatic email reply with a link to the post trip survey.

5. Complete a short, post-trip survey

Click on the link for the post trip survey from your smartphone, tablet or computer and complete the survey. We need you to complete this survey after every trip, so that we have both the track and the survey data. Together, these data will provide insights into decision making. Here is that link again: https://montana.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_3gf1shGarcb9BGt


Or bookmark the website so you can easily navigate to the survey following every trip. 


We will not share your email address with anyone outside of the immediate research group. We will only use your email address to link you track information with your survey responses. We will also use your email address to contact you, should you win one of our spot prizes. Good luck!

More information

qr reader
or scan the QR code

If you want to learn more about our project aims and research questions and approaches, please visit our web pages and review our FAQs: www.montana.edu/snowscience/tracks 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I need to use SkiTracks?

No. We will certainly accept GPX files from GPS units and / or other smart phone apps. Please email these to the email address tracks@montana.edu as you will then receive an automatic reply with a link to the post trip survey. We have suggested that people use the SkiTracks application only because it makes it easy for people to share their GPX file with us - a standalone GPS or another app works just as well for data collection, it's just that you need to connect / download and then email the track (which is more work than sharing their track via the SkiTracks app).

As a side note - no one working on this project is affiliated with or even knows any to the developers of SkiTracks. This application is just one on the market that does most of what we need it to for our project.

What about battery life?

If using SkiTracks then to reduce power usage, you will be tracked using triangulation from cell towers (if within range), and by GPS if out of range. Regardless of the method of tracking, SkiTracks will check battery life and stop tracking once the level gets below a predefined threshold (20% by default). This ensures that you will always have sufficient battery power to make emergency calls. You can adjust this threshold to a lower value if you wish (e.g. 10%). Based on testing using a range of phones, we have managed to track continuously for between 8 and 12 hours. Older phones, with older batteries may manage less.

What about interference?

There has only been only a limited amount of work on this issue, however it does seem that electronic devices (e.g. cell phones, radios, headlamps, MP3 players, GPSs, etc.) can affect avalanche transceivers. The electronic devices affect the searching beacon more than the transmitting beacon. Most manufactures of electronic equipment do not mention possible interference between their electronics and avalanche transceivers. However, a few diligent manufactures, such as Petzl, mention avalanche transceivers specifically. This note that comes with the Petzl Tikka XP2 headlamp: "Warning, when your lamp is lit and in close proximity to an avalanche beacon in receive (find) mode, it can interfere with the operation of the beacon. In case of interference (indicated by static noise from the beacon), move the beacon away from the lamp until the noise stops, or switch off the lamp." In search mode, irregular readings and decreased range can also be caused by other sources of electrical interference, such as power lines, lightning, and electrical generating equipment. Chairlifts also generate background "noise" that can affect the searching transceiver. 
Based on one, very limited study (Barkhausen 2012), the distance between the electronic device and the avalanche transceiver seems to be the key issue. Various avalanche transceiver manufacturers suggest 30cm (12 inches) to 50cm (20 inches) and based on the results from Barkhausen (2012) you should attempt to keep them at least 40cm away from one another to minimize the impact of the potential interference of your phone or GPS on your avalanche transceiver. Further work is needed to examine issues around orientation / transceiver to device combinations / smart phone sending or receiving data etc etc. However in the meantime, we suggest that the top pocket of your pack, or a thigh pocket on your pants might be a good location for your phone or GPS.

Have other questions?

Please email us at tracks@montana.edu and we will respond to your questions. Happy skiing and tracking!

Results To Date

Hendrikx, J. Johnson, J., and Shelly, C., 2016. Using GPS tracking to explore terrain preferences of heli-ski guides. Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism.

Hendrikx, J., and Johnson, J., 2014. Using global crowd-sourced data to understand travel behavior in avalanche terrain. Proceedings of the International Snow Science Workshop, September 28 - October 3, 2014, Banff, Alberta, Canada.  PAPER  

Hendrikx, J., Shelly, C., and Johnson, J., 2014. Tracking heli-ski guides to understand decision making in avalanche terrain. Proceedings of the International Snow Science Workshop, September 28 - October 3, 2014, Banff, Alberta, Canada.  PAPER / POSTER 

Hendrikx, J., Johnson, J. and Southworth, E., 2013. Understanding Travel Behaviour in Avalanche Terrain: A New Approach. Proceedings of the International Snow Science Workshop, October 7-11, 2013, Grenoble, France. PAPER /POSTER 


Related news coverage

The New York Times

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Montana Public Radio

High Country News article

Powder Editor visits MSU for forum

Video of the Snow Science and the Human Factor Forum - Feb., 17, 2015

Powder Magazine's "Human Factor 2.0"

Excerpt about this research from Powder Magazine's "Human Factor 2.0" 

Alaska Dispatch News article

CBC News article

Carve Magazine - February, 2016


NOTE: This project has undergone MSU Human Subjects Review


GPS track log
A schematic showing our data flow for this project, with an example of a GPS track log (shown in blue) overlain on Google Earth (Image courtesy of Google Earth, 2013); and example output data from this track showing the distribution of slope angles travelled on this days; and the resulting decision making process.