Feb. 7, 2013 at 1:34 PM ET
It’s a scenario familiar to any skier or snowboarder: You pull out your trusty paper trail map on a snowy, windy day, only to have it flap around, rip into pieces and succumb to the soggy bounds of your gloves.
Now, though, you may be able to spare yourself the struggle. The map mavens at Google this week rolled out their latest product, mobile trail maps of 38 resorts in the U.S. and Canada, complete with colored lines for trails — green for beginner runs, blue for intermediate and black for experts — along with lifts and the occasional Street View–like tour.
"We’re constantly working to make Google Maps more comprehensive, accurate and useful for our users," said a company spokesperson via e-mail. "So when a few ski enthusiasts on the Google Maps team suggested we add information for ski runs and lifts to Google Maps, we didn’t hesitate.
The maps, which cover major resorts from New England to the Sierras and Western Canada, are available for the iPhone and Android devices. They can also be accessed via computer, which can come in handy for pre-ski planning at home or in the condo.
That’s a good thing because, let’s face it, the average smartphone screen doesn’t exactly provide an expansive view. The problem is exacerbated in Google Maps’ traditional view, in which the trails resemble strands of string on a generic background, although activating satellite view brings up a lot more detail and topography.
Shortcomings aside, the coolest feature of the app is the incorporation of “boots on the ground” Street View capability for select runs and resorts. Standing at the top of the Dave Murray Downhill at Whistler, for example, you can click your way down the course before deciding whether you really want to drop in. (Do your fellow riders a favor, though, and put your phone away before you actually push off.)
“It seems like it would be an added benefit for riders,” said Troy Hawks, spokesman for the National Ski Areas Association, as well as for resorts that might receive increased exposure and, in time, save money on printing costs.
On the other hand, notes Hawks, those old-fashioned trail maps still maintain one distinct advantage.
“Your phone’s great for at least the first couple of hours you’re out there,” he told NBC News. “But if you’re an ardent skier and your battery dies, there goes your trail map.”
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.