California: Never lose your tracks

Sat-nav technology is the latest must-have for the slopes.

As we drove through the desert state of Nevada, it seemed both practical and reassuring that our car's global positioning system (GPS) could find its way to a ski resort in this arid landscape of cacti and rolling tumbleweed. Sure enough, turning a corner, I caught sight of the snowy peaks and green pines surrounding Lake Tahoe. But what is perhaps more impressive is that I could also use GPS to direct myself around the slopes of the resort I had arrived at: Heavenly.

Yes, just as satellite navigation technology has become a must-have accessory in cars, sat-navs are beginning to make themselves useful on the slopes. The market leader is Satsports (satsportsgps.com), which reproduces the artist's rendition of the mountains you see on paper piste maps on your iPhone, BlackBerry or other smart phone, with a little yellow circle to indicate where you are.



I was sceptical at first, but its position-finding was largely spot-on. Occasionally, it would place me on a piste when I was on a lift more or less above it, only to correct itself. I could zoom in and out and just had to drag my finger across the screen to scroll around the map. And I could replay where I had been.



Heavenly is known for its impressive runs through the trees, and has carefully placed gates where off-piste skiers can enter the "back country" so that the landscape funnels them down to a lift at the end. This avoids one of the major hazards of skiing off-piste in Europe, namely getting stuck in the middle of nowhere. I was skiing with a guide, so I knew I was in the super-steep Mott Canyon, piled high with fresh spring snow. But would my GPS throw a wobbly at our wayward deviation from the pistes? Although no substitute for the local knowledge of a guide, it implacably showed me where we were, all the time.



The big ski operator Crystal reasons that most skiers and boarders coming all the way to the west coast of America want to see more than one resort, not to mention a few cities, and offers a self-drive, multi-centre package. Armed with GPS, I visited the casinos of Reno and the picturesque resorts that surround Lake Tahoe, which straddles the border with California, including Squaw Valley.



Squaw Valley was host to the 1960 Winter Olympics and, like Heavenly, has stunning views over the azure lake. Each of the resorts I visited was covered by Satsports, which has mapped out all but the smallest resorts worldwide.



I am still, at heart, a technophobe, but given that in my ignorance I had at first assumed I was in the Rockies, GPS downloads for the car and slopes had seemed a good investment. As long as your phone has GPS, general packet radio service (GPRS) and a touchscreen, you can download one resort map for £6 to £8 for a fortnight or £14 to £16 for all the resorts covered in a continent for a year.



For those skiers whose phones are strictly phones, several resorts have introduced ways of tracking your day's progress for free via lift passes. In nearly every resort in Austria, you can see which lifts you have taken and how many kilometres of vertical you have done at skiline.cc.



Heavenly and the four Vail resorts in Colorado are taking this concept one step further. A chip on the lift pass lets your Facebook friends see in real time which lifts you are taking. At present, the device is fitted only to all-season passes (given the high cost of one- or two-week lift passes in North America, the unlimited version is not significantly more expensive).



After lunch on my last day, I headed for the Northstar resort – which is where I had my epiphany. I'd decided to do the "back country", but soon lost track of where I was in the forest. I suddenly panicked that I had gone beyond the ski area boundaries. How would I get back? Would I miss my flight? Suddenly the Wild West seemed very wild indeed – until that little yellow circle placed me back in civilisation.



The writer travelled as a guest of Crystal Ski (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk), which offers a week's B&B at Heavenly on Lake Tahoe from £1,055 at the four-star Embassy Suites, based on four people travelling, including scheduled flights and car hire. The trip can be combined with a stay at Mammoth and stopovers in Santa Monica, LA or San Francisco. For more information, visit california.com and travelnevada.com.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
Sport
football
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us