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Off piste and personal… with Jon Williams, Community Manager of FATMAP

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Jon Williams is the Community Manager for FATMAP, which brings ski terrain to life through an interactive 3D map. We asked him about his love of skiing and how to stay safe on the slopes…

How did FATMAP come about?
FATMAP used to be a 3D map which covered a range of different ski resorts – but last year that all changed. Now it’s like Google Earth: you can see terrain all over the world in 3D, both in the summer and winter. We cover over 650 main resorts in the Alps, a huge section of the Pyrennes, and all the main resorts in North America and Japan. You can adapt the map for free riding, mountain biking, hiking or ski touring, but for skiing clients, it gives a 100% overview of the pistes. When you look at it on a web platform, you can see the runs, resorts, lifts and meeting points; you can see the terrain in 3D, and then filter the trails or pistes by difficulty or length. Basically, you can plan your trip before you’ve even arrived.

How does it help the more seasoned skier?
For the ambitious free-rider, FATMAP can be used to plot your route. You can draw your routes freehand, directly on to the mountain; otherwise, you can turn on the Snap To feature, which sticks a drawing route to the trail. You can save routes, add photographs, points of interest (for example, a good lunch spot) – it all auto-syncs to an app on your phone. The basic version enables you to generate a link and send it to a fellow skier via Whatsapp, and there’s also a premium subscription which enables you to download specific areas of the resort and view them offline.

How does it enhance safety on the piste?
FATMAP means that you can dig much deeper into what you’re doing. For example, you can analyse off-piste terrain and back country routes before heading out. There’s an avalanche forecast tool, which means you can narrow down which areas you plan to tackle. Soon, we’ll be launching something called ‘Snow Cover Layer’, which will show you the snowfall over the past 24 hours, plus live piste updates and status updates on lifts.

What is your role at FATMAP?
I do all the community and content side of things. We’re a big team based in Berlin, but some of us work from Chamonix, Bavaria and also in the USA. My role is to negotiate partnerships with likeminded athletes, oversee the various FATMAP platforms and manage the social media. It’s interesting to see the concept grow. Previously, we were targeting professionals and mountain guides but what we’ve found is that FATMAP really does appeal to every level of outdoor enthusiast. We’re planning to introduce maps for 19 new sports over time. The aim is to encourage people to be outside, safely. And to inspire them.

Are you an outdoor enthusiast?
Totally. I come from an outdoor sports, photography and video background – I’m happiest doing something that combines a sense of adventure with photography. In my free time, I ski, climb and mountain bike. Living in Bavaria helps!

What’s your most memorable time on skis?
I do a lot of ski touring – it’s changed the way I ski. One of the coolest experiences I’ve had so far was heading off into the back country in Weißee for a friend’s birthday last Spring. We stayed in a hut up on a glacier, ski toured all day, and soaked up the mountain views. There were eight of us when we began; two people turned around halfway through. It was hard but it’s also good to push yourself every so often.

What ski kit do you rely upon?
I never go off-piste without avalanche gear: at a minimum, that means a receiver, probe and shovel. It’s also handy to have a first aid pack, air bags (these can be built into your backpack) and an ava-lung breathing pipe in case you get caught in the avalanche. And always take a friend – never go alone. If you’re going into the back country, plan your route carefully, and always tell people we’re you’re going.

Have you ever injured yourself through skiing?
Yes, I’ve crashed a few times. Once, I twisted my knee badly – I was going too fast and just wiped out on the piste. But so far, no broken bones! Ski touring is where you need to be particularly careful: off-piste riding and going out of bounds can lead to some really nasty injuries. That’s why FATMAP exists – it helps you to plan your route and be prepared. Skiing is exciting and adrenaline-pumping, but you shouldn’t think you’re invincible.