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Making of: interactive, mobile piste map by LAAX

By and on 16. February 2012

You weaved gracefully down the wonderfully prepared piste and now you are faced with the option of two different runs – but where do they lead? How will you get back up the mountain from the next stop? True, for cases like this there is the paper piste map, dug out of the interior pocket of your thermal jacket with difficulty. Better still, the LAAX website is now optimised for smartphones. The most recent innovative technology and navigation offer winter sports enthusiasts the necessary orientation and information.

Ausschnitt des Pistenplans von LAAX

Today, quite a number of websites of ski areas in Switzerland and abroad are optimised for mobile use. Most of them offer current information on weather and piste conditions and the facilities and events on site. But they are all missing one thing, the essential core of every ski resort: piste and area maps.

World premiere: an interactive piste map that does its name justice

An analysis of the mobile websites of different ski areas shows that the piste map – if it is integrated into the mobile website at all – usually consists of a static image file. The problem: first, all interactive map systems are based on satellite images taken during summer and show lovely green meadows instead of snow-covered mountains, and, second, the piste maps show the region from a bird’s-eye view. Accordingly, the user lacks the crucial topological information.

The added value for the user is questionable if the mobile website offers merely an image of the printed piste map.

LAAX takes it one step further and presents a world first: an interactive piste map that does its name justice. On the new mobile website, users can locate themselves and display their position on the scalable map. On request, the facilities in operation can be shown, and pictures, webcams and all the important points of interest (restaurants, events, rental shops, etc.) are available as well.

Screenshots der mobilen Website von LAAX

Turning the smartphone horizontally displays the interactive piste map. It shows the position of the user, current status of ski lifts and other dynamic information.

Walter and his white arena

From a technological viewpoint, the question is how these functions are possible. After all, this is a piste map that is not drawn to scale or from a topologically correct perspective.

The requirements are complex, as are the calculations behind it all, but the idea is simple. We allocate a dense network of reference points from the real coordinate system, as we know it from Google Maps, to the corresponding points on the piste map. By means of interpolation, an approximate calculation, any points can thus be converted between the different coordinate systems. What’s more, this mapping allows us to dispense with the use of additional and hard-to-determine information, such as altitude or distortion factors.

Zuordnung der Referenzpunkte aus dem realen Koordinatensystem in den perspektivisch verzerrten Pistenplan

Allocation of the reference points from the real coordinate system (bottom) into the piste map (top) with its distorted perspective

In order to achieve our ambitious goal, we need support. From someone who knows his way around. Who knows every ski lift, alpine hut and rock ledge in the region. We call him Walter. And as to be expected from a true Grisons mountain dweller, he agrees to enter the more than 300 reference points into the app created by us specifically for this purpose. Some time later, we carry out the first tests – the results are convincing: we achieve an accuracy of within just a few metres! By adding additional reference points in the villages, we achieve the desired precision there, too.

Mobile into the future

This provides the basis for an interactive piste map, the likes of which the mountain world has not seen before. Users are now able to see exactly where they are in the ski area: their position is displayed on the piste map. In addition, all points of interest can be entered centrally in real coordinates and made available for all the regional websites (LAAX, Flims, etc.). It also smooths the way for the integration of external geo-data providers and services.

LAAX got the knack of it

The icing on the cake: in order to give the interactive map a suitable presence on the mobile website, Unic reaches deeply into its bag of innovations and gives it a novel approach that until now has not been implemented in web apps. If users turn their mobile devices horizontally, the piste map is displayed. Turning it back brings back the previous page.

> to the project

> mobile website of LAAX

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