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 (, 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

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;, 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 and

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments