Photo Credits

Skier Rips Telemark Turn

Shot on Seegrube Mountain, Innsbruck, Austria.

© ARochau

Review: Mammut Safety App

Swiss Quality at its Finest or Lost in Translation?

Review for Mammut Safety 2.0 V1.0.1 Update December 20, 2014

The Mammut Safety App is amongst the most popular apps for backcountry skiers. This is due in part to the fact that it includes three of the most important tools for traveling in avalanche terrain (altimeter, compass, and inclinometer) in one app. It is also free and quite lightweight, weighing in at just 0.0 ounces (weight of smart phone not included). Sound promising? Read on...

When you download this app, you'll likely notice the description seems to have been translated from Swiss to English by Google Translator, " runs beyond the slope waiting for your turns - what else could you ask for? A risk-free ride could be one! Best partner therefore: Mammut and the Safety App."

This app could be my best partner!? Wow, that's saying a lot!

The clunky wording isn't just in the description on the app store; it's found throughout the app. Awkward wording is one thing. Unfortunately, it is also misleading and inaccurate; if each word of the app was taken at face value, it could potentially lead novices into disaster. To top it off, the app does not use language, danger scales, or definitions that are consistent with current industry standards.

Before delving further into the app's inconsistencies and inaccuracies, I'll provide a brief update on current avalanche education. If you're already up to speed on this, skip to the next paragraph.

Avalanche educators (including educators who teach avalanche courses, people who work and/or volunteer for avalanche forecast centers, ski patrollers, guides, etc.) have gone through great lengths to be on the same page so the message they deliver to the public is consistent and easy to understand, no matter which region of North America you travel to. For example, instability issues have been narrowed down to just a handful of two or three-word phrases, or "avalanche problems", that accompany simple, cartoon-like icons. The color-coded Danger Scale (See Appendix A) rates avalanche danger from 1-5 and is accompanied with language that helps the traveler decide what kind of terrain they should travel in. The system is very clear, succinct, and, in North America and most of Europe, universal. 

MammutApp1To the left is the first page that loads when you open the app. There are three tools on the bottom of the screen: a clinometer, compass, and altimeter. These are the most useful tools in the app. All three function well and are user friendly. Backcountry Access has an app with a "3-in-1 tool" that also provides these three tools but I find them a bit hard to read because of the tiny numbers that are displayed.

Surrounding the tusked mascot in the middle of the app, you'll see three more tools: Bulletins, SOS, and Risk Check. Let's first look at this so-called Risk Check. There's plenty of room for humor about a magic button that "checks your risk", but because this topic is as deadly as depth hoar, I'll stick to focusing on how this Risk Check hovers somewhere between irresponsible and reckless.

Pressing the Risk Check button brings us to the Risk Level tool shown below.








The first paragraph on this page attempts to explain how to calculate the risk of an avalanche based on stability and probability. However, the risk of an avalanche is calculated by many other factors, and stability and probability are nearly the same. If the wording included probability and consequences or size, it would be slightly more accurate. The Danger Rating is calculated by too many factors for most backcountry travelers to process and understand, which is why we have avalanche centers that tell us what the Danger Rating is. 

At the bottom of this same page, it seems that the app develops are aiming to remind the user that the Danger Rating should be considered when evaluating the Risk Level. That seems logical, but maybe they should have said exactly that, because what they attempt to do here is going to confuse people who use the North American Danger Scale. The scale created for this app is nothing like the one we use in North America. In fact, it's nothing like the one used in Europe either. It's worth noting that the Danger Scale has been developed by top avalanche professionals over the past 20+ years; this scale seems to have come out of thin air.

Click on the little "i" at the top of the screen and you will find a "key" for the definitions of Minor, Moderate, Considerable, and Major. This app gives the following definition for Major: "Unfavorable conditions. Considerable avalanche assessment experience required. Limited to moderately steep terrain/avalanche run-out zones." What?! Most importantly, "unfavorable" is a gross understatement. "Extremely unstable" would be more accurate. "Considerable avalanche assessment experience required"? That's about as vague as you can get. And, finally, the sentence about the avalanches being "limited to moderately steep terrain" is like saying education is limited to the classroom or ants are limited to your pants. When the danger rating is High, or "Major", as they call it, avalanche distribution is not limited at all; in fact devastating avalanches could occur on, below, or adjacent to just about any slope!

Again, see Appendix A for the wording that is used in North America - wording that has been thought about, debated, and developed by avalanche professionals over decades. The only thing useful on this page is the link to the avalanche bulletin, though you have to navigate multiple pages to get there. At least people using this link have the chance to find the info they actually need to make informed decisions. 

MammutClip3For this review, we'll skip the portion of the next page called Exposure, Part 2/3, as well as the Bulletin and SOS functions. It should be clear by now that there are plenty of parts of the app that are unclear, and addressing each would be redundant. Let's move on to the last section of the Risk Check, the Slope Angle, Part 3/3.

Finally, the one piece of information that has been 100% accurate!













MammutClip4Once you read the small shred of truth about slope angles on the last screen and then touch Continue, it brings you here...An inclinometer is very useful, and arguably the most important tool 

in the box, except for one potentially fatal glitch. Can you spot it?

Yes, 38 degrees is not a "Minor Risk"! In fact, 38 degrees is the most common angle for avalanches, particularly the most deadly avalanche type - slab avalanches. Yikes! I hope they fix that one soon. 

(I tilted my phone to 38 degrees and then took this screen shot.)

To give Mammut the benefit of the doubt, largely because just about every other product I've used by them is rather exceptional, I'd assume that most of the problems that I've highlighted above are due to the fact that something was lost in translation. They have translated this app into 16 different languages, and some aberration in accuracy isn't surprising. If you use this app, I'd recommend sticking to the clinometer (just the numbers, not the words!), compass, and altimeter. And never rely on any app as your only tool for navigation or decision-making in the mountains.  






Appendix A





Josh Beckner is the Director of the School for International Expedition Training, a nonprofit dedicated to helping aspiring mountaineers develop professional-level technical, leadership, and risk-management skills. He works around the globe as an alpine, ski, and rock guide. He also spends his winters working as an avalanche educator.


The opinions of  contributing writers may not be the the same as the opinions of OSI.

Posted by

Josh Beckner

on 1/26/15
Field SafetyTools & ToysResourceNews


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