22/11/2011 05:07 GMT | Updated 21/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Adventure Apps: When Nature Meets Technology

A number of years ago I was involved in a ski slope incident. Picture the scene. A snow canon leaks overnight covering a ski piste in sheet ice. One by one the first skiers of the day shoot over a lip on the piste, slip on the ice and tumble down a near vertical ice rink. This goes on for an hour before the mountain guides (some of whom are now also casualties) close the piste and erect fencing. In the present day world of mobile phones and good mountain reception this hour of tumbles would probably be reduced to about 20 minutes. In tomorrow's world of advanced smartphones, location-based apps and machine-to-machine communication, the canon may have never leaked at all.

Today the "app-mosphere" is alive with programmes that can track your location and spending habits, advise you as to what to wear or eat, and can even make you look or sound better than you really do. More than most, the adventure industry is embracing this technology, with a prime example being the recent launch of the Les Arcs mobile app. The app offers an array of useful features such as slope maps, lift opening hours and weather forecasts. However, on top of this information is a layer of interactive functionality. The app provides skiers with geo-spatial positioning, enabling performance measuring such as top speeds, distance covered and altitude ascended and descended. It also offers webcam views of the slopes, day itineraries, listings of local events and guides to pretty much every activity possible in the resort. It is consumer engagement to the max.

But how is this changing the industry and why does it matter?

The growing trend of brand engagement through smartphone technology is changing the industry in three ways. Firstly, consumers are being offered a level of active engagement that was previously unattainable. Traditionally, a fold-away resort map at the ski-lift ticket office, a nod in the direction of a mountain trial by a friendly local and a hazy description (intended or induced) of where the best surf break lies were the closest that adventure travellers came to local engagement. Now I can learn about my surroundings, find out what, where and how to enjoy those surroundings and engage with a sport, location and brand from the rock face itself.

Secondly, brands are gaining access to a desirable one-to-one marketing relationship with their target audience. Companies such as The North Face and Columbia have released apps offering information from base snow depth to essential items for any adventure. Through engaging with the root cause for consumer purchases, brands are building deeper consumer relationships and encouraging brand loyalty.

Thirdly, and most radically, the layering of technology over the natural world has the potential to reduce environmental damage and improve market efficiency. Taking the Les Arcs app as an example, if all mountaineers were to be using the app then HQ of the Paradiski resort would have access to incredibly valuable information. It would be able to monitor the flow of skiers in real time and pick up on irregularities resulting from a piste being over-skied. Couple this with webcam views, snow depth statistics and automated status updates from mountain-side equipment, and Paradiski has the ability optimise the resort for tourists as well as minimise environmental damage from overuse.

And why does all this matter? It means that I feel more engaged with the piste I'm skiing. I feel more in tune with the gear that I'm wearing. I'm less likely to be damaging the environment that I'm enjoying...and I'm less likely to have my day ruined by a slab of black ice.