Frequently Asked Questions  
     
   
 
 
     
 

Do I need cell phone reception to operate MAST? 

Cell phone service is not required to record observations.  You will need service to download the current avalanche forecast, transmit observations and access educational resources.

 
     
 
 
     

Does your app tell me if itís safe to ride or travel across a slope?

Absolutely not!  No one can provide a simple green-yellow-red solution to the complex problem of avalanche risk assessment.   Technology only provides you a set of tools.  The most important things to take into avalanche terrain are knowledge, experience, and a large dose of respect for the power of nature.  See Humility & Respect.

 
     
 
 
     

Will my smart phone interfere with my beacon?

Any device that gives off electromagnetic radiation Ė cell phone, mp3 player, GPS, headlamp Ė runs the risk of interfering with an avalanche transponder signal. In general, the level of interference decreases as the distance between the beacon and other electronic devices increases. Hereís a report from Beacon Reviews, as well as a more recent study presented by John Barkhausen at the 2012 International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW).

Weíve run a large number of tests during beacon practice drills, and havenít experienced issues.  But that doesnít mean it couldnít happen.  At a minimum, we recommend keeping your beacon and smart phone at least 30cm apart.  For the least risk, shut off your smart phone when not recording observations.

 
     
 
 
     

How much battery life will I get with MAST?

Smartphone battery life depends on the device, what apps you run, external temperatures and how you carry it. GPS and music apps suck a lot of power.  Battery life also declines with temperature, so the closer you keep your phone to your body, the better. 

You can minimize power consumption with MAST by just hitting the home button when not in use.  Then select MAST when you want to add to existing, or add new observations.  Also, per the discussion above about beacon interference, we recommend you shut down your smart phone when in avalanche terrain Ė that really extends your battery life!

 
     
 
 
     

What do the Avalanche Centers want to see in my observations?

MAST provides a great way to share your backcountry observations with others.  In particular, your current view of the backcountry can be a great help to the regional forecasters.  Here are some guidelines for making your observations most useful to forecasters:

  1. Keep it simple. Focus on weather conditions, obvious signs of instability and actual avalanches. The forecasters donít care much about your pit profiles or stability test results, since they are out there frequently making these observations themselves. On the other hand, near-real-time information about worsening weather, a collapsing layers or actual slide is of great interest.
  2. Use MASTís features to take photos and videos, record audio and add textual data to the observation. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  And when you use the Take Photo feature, date, time, aspect, slope angle and location are automatically recorded.
  3. Make sure youíve set up your name and email address in the Home section of the app, and have enabled the Send Name feature.  The forecasters may want to get more information about your observations, which they canít do if you try to remain anonymous.  They will respect your privacy and not display this information on their website without your permission.
 
     
 
 
     

How do I use MAST with my gloves on? In case you havenít noticed, itís COLD during the winter.

Yup, the smart phone touch-screen is an incredible leap forward in device usability Ė unless itís cold.  Here are a couple of ways to use MAST without getting frostbite.

First, there are several ďsmartphone-friendlyĒ gloves that are built with outdoor recreation in mind.    

First Ascent makes a great touch-screen glove, designed by climbing and skiing powerhouses like Ed Viesturs and Reggie Christ.

In a full glove, Helly Hansenís Enigma has touch-screen-sensitive fingertips.

The North Face Etip glove is another good choice.

Second, a touch-screen stylus works well in cold, windy, wet backcountry conditions.  Although you may need to remove a glove to retrieve your smart phone, these pens provide better sensitivity on scroll-wheels and bars than your basic cold bare hand, and are easy to use with non-dexterous gloves and mitts.  Here are some examples:

Bobís personal favorite is this pen-sized device, the JavoEdge Touchpen 2 in 1 Stylus.  It has a touch-screen stylus at one end and a ball point pen on the other.  We recommend attaching this to your body or clothing somehow, so you donít drop it.  Donít askÖ

The JavoEdge Ergonomic Grip Stylus is compact and includes a short lanyard and lock that fits in the headphone jack of your smart phone. Unless you have outstanding fine motor skills, itís very hard to operate this tiny device with gloves on.

There are cheaper (and way more expensive) options out there.  A quick internet search will turn up plenty of options.  You can also make your own stylus out of a wide range of materials you probably have around the house.  Weíve seen them built out of a ballpoint pen barrel and the packing material that comes with integrated circuits.  Just search the interwebz and youtubz for ďhomemade iPhone stylusĒ for ideas.

 
     
 
 
     

How can I take snow crystal photos with my smart phone?

Brett Kobernik from the Utah Avalanche Center built a smart phone microscope by gluing a washer to a full-back protective cover and aligning the washer with the viewfinder of his RF Interscience 25X macroscope.  Here are some still photos of his creation, and the result.

See Brett using his invention beginning at 2:20 in this video.

 
     
 
 
     

What if I donít want to disclose the location of my observation?

First off, get over yourself!  Itís a safe bet that at least 50 other people know about your ďsecret stashĒ.  But if you are dead set against disclosing your location, donít share the observation.  Weather and snow conditions at ďmy secret placeĒ are worthless to others.

 
     
 
 
     

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