Are ski apps causing injuries?

Tracking speeds on the mountain could be hurting more than it's helping according to a group of French doctors; photos courtesy of Josh Mishell/Flickr.

Tracking speeds on the mountain could be hurting more than it’s helping, according to a group of French doctors. Photos courtesy Josh Mishell/Flickr

In our world of digital sharing, just sliding downhill isn't enough anymore. We need to track our runs, catch our airtime, and monitor our speed, and now, thanks to smartphone applications, we can do just that.

But are ski apps becoming a dangerous distraction on the slopes? A recent report by the BBC suggests just that, adding that doctors in the French Alps are reporting an increase in skier and snowboarder collisions in the last few years—and that apps could be part of the problem.

According to the report, while there are no statistics that directly point to ski apps as accident causers on the hill, the amount of serious injuries over the past 10 years has increased from 3.95 percent to 5.3 percent. The increase correlates with the rise of app technology, a connection a group of French Alpine doctors would like to look into.

"I routinely ask people how fast they were going when they fall over and hurt themselves," says Dr. Alan Grifiths, a doctor near Val d'Isere, in a BBC interview. "I've noticed over the last month or so some people can tell me the exact speed because they were using the Ski Tracks app."

Ski Tracks is a GPS recorder that monitors ski distance, ski vertical, ski slope angle, and speed from the convenience of your handheld device. Information from the day can then be uploaded online so that friends and family can say exactly where skiers and boarders spent their day, and how fast their thrills were.

While the technology is useful, it taps into our competitive nature, creating a dangerous game that not everyone on the slopes should be playing. Similar to the college story of someone bringing a breathalyzer to a party and things getting out of hand, ski apps like Ski Tracks push some of us to beat one another, even if that victory puts skiers and boarders in a harmful situation. Suddenly skiers and boarders that can barely navigate expert runs are darting downhill to beat their own speed record.

Admittedly, developing a responsible ski-tracking app seems like it would be dry and boring at best—no one wants to track how many turns they made down an intermediate trail—but something needs to change. Apps like Ski Tracks (and there are plenty of others) need to at least issue a disclaimer stating that users should be of a certain ability level before using the app. They need to remind folks that serious consequences exist when skiing or boarding impaired (and yes, staring at your phone while flying downhill is an impairment of vision and judgement).

But, moreover, skiers and boarders themselves need to wise up a bit. Prioritize health over a little bit of shareable data—that is, unless you want to take your next selfie in a ski-patrol sled. Just some food for thought.