Recreational avalanche forecasts are an important public safety service – particularly as backcountry skiing becomes more popular. Historically, avalanche centers have operated independently on many levels, including developing and implementing technology. In 2015, the National Avalanche Center (NAC) began a project to centralize technology development efforts into a common platform on Avalanche.org. There were several goals behind this initiative:
- To improve the consistency between avalanche centers
- Improve the workflow involved with generating avalanche products
- Build a more robust storage platform
- Enable both small and large centers to get software upgrades without everybody developing their own systems independently
- Embeddable widgets in avalanche center websites to visualize the products with minimal development time
Snowbound Solutions was very excited at the prospect, as we had worked on similar projects in the past. We realized immediately the project potential and how a multi-tenancy database pattern in the avalanche forecasting arena could impact and add value to all backcountry avalanche centers. Snowbound Solutions role in the multi-year project has been to:
- Develop, implement and maintain the database models
- Scalable API to serve the data to avalanche center websites
- Front end user interface for weather applications
- Leverage the large amount of weather station data in SnowObs to power the weather map visualizations
Current mountain weather conditions are a critical piece of information for building avalanche forecasts or assessing avalanche hazard. The weather maps were initially built for NAC in 2015 and brought a common weather platform to US avalanche centers. Now in its third version, the weather maps allow for a user to quickly visualize the current weather conditions and analyze historic weather for specific areas. As of the 2020/2021 season, the weather maps served 8 avalanche centers in the US with over 30,000 daily public users during peak periods.
NAC wanted to build a new product for sharing and displaying the daily avalanche forecast danger for all US based avalanche centers. Snowbound Solutions built a robust and scalable API that powers the shared platform, collecting and visualizing daily avalanche forecast ratings for the entire US. On the front page of each avalanche center website is the National Danger Map and is the first thing most backcountry users see when looking for the avalanche forecast. The watches and warnings platform began the Avalanche.org API that would provide the shared vision for a common data platform.
In 2019, NAC desired to standardize the creation and visualization of an avalanche center forecast, a mission critical product. As a critical piece of an avalanche center’s mission, the platform had to be robust and not fail if traffic spiked unexpectedly. Therefore, Snowbound Solutions updated and redesigned aspects of the Avalanche.org API to serve the expected heavy traffic loads for the avalanche forecast platform. An avalanche center creates and submits a forecast in their dashboard which is immediately available on the avalanche center website. At the start of the 2020/2021 season, the avalanche forecast platform served 13 avalanche centers in the US, reaching 10s of millions of users a year.
The new shared platform has been a great success, and has served 10s of millions of requests per season across all of the different services. Snowbound Solutions applied the latest technological applications to create a scalable and robust API and user interface that will continue to grow into the future. The popularity of the avalanche forecasting platform showcases how centralizing technological development can push forward useful and valuable technology that will impact all US based avalanche centers.