It had been one of those dreary snowmobiling days where although the snow was awesome, visibility was extremely limited. Thus, we had spent the majority of the day off-trail and in the trees. Picking our way from one drainage to another was challenging, testing both our riding skills and our snowmobiles’ limitations. But daylight was running out and fuel was getting low. It was time to head back.
The trouble was, however, after hours of weaving around in falling snow and flat light, we really didn’t know what direction was the trail, let alone the trailhead. Although one of our group members had downloaded a backcountry app that could show where the trail was, we were still basically on our own trying to find the best route to get back to it.
But at least we knew what direction to head. That was better than nothing.
Since then, I’ve started looking into off-road apps and backcountry guidance systems. There are plenty available … but most really don’t provide the basics for backcountry snowmobiling. Then I came across onX Offroad—a simple cell phone app that not only offers a bundle of useful information for snowmobilers, but also allows you to store your ride information via the cloud on a website so you can access it on your computer, as well as on your phone.
Technology has come a long way in a short time. There is a ton of information available … but the challenge is finding an operating system that can sort through all that is available and mold it into something not only usable, but understandable. The onX Offroad App does just that. Although this technology comes at a price, once you see what you have available on your phone, the $29.99 yearly fee for the Offroad Premium membership is really quite insignificant.
With its humble start, onX Offroad began as one man’s desire to collect backcountry trails and public land information for hunting (onX Hunt). It soon spread to including backcountry hiking and then to off-road motorized use. This year it took one more step to offer a clear focus on winter activities.
With its unique name, onX Offroad, this company has grown dramatically in just a few years. It has gained a reputation for its robust GPS platform, mapping over 425,000 miles of dirt trails, 975 million acres of public land, and over 500,000 points of interest–places like campsites, non-ethanol fuel stations, trail heads, scenic vistas, breweries and more.
Other onX Offroad features, such as Tracker and Waypoints, help riders remember where they’ve been, and places they don’t want to forget–like access points or winter “playgrounds.” If visibility or conditions change, App users can rely on Offline Maps to see their location and get home safely, even without cell service. Lastly, land management layers and various map views (including 3D) give a comprehensive picture of terrain, and illustrate open access areas as well as restricted areas.
“By adding Snow Mode to onX Offroad, we’re extending the stoke year-round,” said Rory Edwards, onX Offroad general manager. “Whether you’re in Montana, Minnesota or Maine, a tap of a button gives riders the information they need to shred the slopes and rip the trails.”
This winter I had a chance to take Rory out into the backcountry of eastern Idaho on snowmobiles. This gave him a chance to see a unique and inviting area that features hundreds of miles of cross-country riding opportunities. And it gave me a chance to see what onX Offroad “Snow Mode” provides valuable information.
The new snowmobile-specific experience to the onX Offroad App Premium allows users to quickly toggle from the App’s well-known “Dirt Mode” to the new “Snow Mode,” accessing 140,000 miles of snowmobile trails in 30 states, slope angle overlays, and localized avalanche forecasts for an unparalleled winter experience.
Eastern Idaho is laced with rolling hills. Most who snowmobile there feel safe since there are few perceived “avalanche” areas. However, with the slope angle feature on the Snow Mode, I could quickly see by the color-code display there still are significant drainages with technical terrain with slope angles in the danger zone. I could also quickly access the closest Avalanche Center to see what the latest forecast revealed the actual avalanche danger to be.
Within a few seconds Rory and I could adjust our route to avoid those areas littered in red and purple (avalanche terrain) since the forecast showed that due to the recent storm in the area the dangers were extreme.
With Snow Mode, onX Offroad users can navigate winter terrain by seeing local avalanche forecasts and slope angle overlays in their favorite zones. With this information, riders can make a plan for the day with snow conditions and terrain in mind. They can also view hourly weather forecasts that illustrate wind speed and direction, temperature highs and lows, and inches of precipitation right in the App. Winter-specific points of interest, like snow parking areas and warming huts, also dot the map.
Over the next few months, onX Offroad will continue to add snowmobile trails to the Snow Mode experience. During this same time, I will be exploring all the features on this App. One that I have really appreciated is the Tracker feature. Before I start a ride, I turn it on. This keeps track of distance, time and any waypoints I want to mark. I can also take photographs from my phone and pin them directly on the spot of the map they were taken.
I found the program runs nicely in the background of my iPhone, and doesn’t interfere with the phone’s normal operation. Also, I haven’t noticed any significant drain of my phone battery while the app is running in the background.
So the next time I’m caught out in unfriendly weather while riding unfamiliar terrain, I’ll have the confidence that onX Offroad will point me in the right direction and help me recognized the safest and/or easiest route back to the trailhead.
Isn’t that worth $30.