Snow Report: Caught short on the black run? There's an app for that...

Not so long ago, ski holidays were something of a mystery tour.

We'd get a brochure, book six months ahead, and not think much about the trip until the day of arrival, when our first question to the rep, as we boarded the transfer coach, would be: "So is there any snow?"

During the past decade, the internet, with its live webcams and snow reports, has changed all that, making it easier to know what to expect before setting off. Now, social networking and phone apps, which started appearing last winter, are further transforming how we "experience" our ski holiday.

The chance to sign up to Facebook groups or follow Twitter feeds for the resort of our choice can blur the edges of when our ski holiday begins and ends. We can watch the first snow falls in the early autumn, share the thrills of those on the slopes before us, becoming part of the resort community before even stepping foot in the place.

Companies such as Skiinfo now feed live snow information for almost any resort to new mobile versions of its site, skiinfo.co.uk. "We'll send a powder alarm when 20cm or more snow falls in 24 hours at a resort where the user has registered for the free service," says company boss Espen Schroder.

This might all sound a bit Big Brother, but there are many practical advantages to taking an early look at your holiday destination if you're a skier or boarder. With a high proportion of holiday costs hitting visitors in resort, you can use these services to become privy to deals on lift tickets or dining out, as well as being kept up to date on the best runs, restaurants, weekly events and so on.

Either way, the snow sports tour operators and resorts are falling over one another to bring out the best technology. Leading the charge is Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk), the UK's biggest winter-sports operator, which has replaced its old paper information pack with an electronic one.

Key to this new digital version is a personalised "first 24-hour guide", containing details of the local airport, transfers, check-in details, ski escorting, and childcare services. Direct communication with the company's in-resort team is also available. Crystal uses Travel Buddy to allow free-of-charge text messaging of essential information to its clients in resort.

Once there, iPhone and Android apps can provide live information about your location on the slopes or in the resort to tell you where the nearest mountain restaurant or even mountainside loo is, as well as recording how far and how fast you've skied during the day.

It makes you wonder whether, in the end, we'll bother actually turning up for the real thing at all.

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