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3 Steps to Implement GPS for Better Slope Management

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High-precision RTK GPS is an asset to all who manage or maintain ski resorts. Combining GPS hardware with a slope management software, both seasonal snow grooming and year-round mountain management can be done better, safer, and more efficiently.

Learn more about the benefits of implementing a GPS ski slope management system from RDO Integrated Controls.

To achieve best results with a system, start with proper implementation. Here are the three steps to successfully enter the GPS world for snow grooming and mountain management.

Background Basics
Before resort managers can “walk the walk” of GPS snow grooming, they need to talk the talk. Initial discussions with the selected equipment and technology partner, like RDO Integrated Controls, are important to establish long-term plans and goals, as well as any concerns. The discussion will also factor in existing equipment, including snow cats and snowmaking, to the overall strategy. Quote1_3StepstoEntry_Jan19

Part of this first step includes getting to know the mountain as well. A digital surface model is the foundation to everything that’s done with high-precision GPS. Essentially, it’s a virtual snapshot of the mountain’s topography and characteristics, showing area and elevation, and where infrastructure and obstacles exist.

The necessary survey and/or LiDAR data can come from different sources, depending on the resort’s resources or partner. A resort can provide the info on its own or via third-party company. Or, RDO Integrated Controls can provide either by manual or UAV survey.

This virtual image of the mountain and all its characteristics works with the GPS hardware and GIS software to tell the operator snow depth, position of other GPS-enabled machines on the mountain, and where an avoidance areas or obstacle like a lift tower, hydrant, tree, or rock exists. This awareness is especially important in adverse weather conditions when operators might not otherwise see potential hazards.

Finally, a discussion is needed to establish the base station plan. A base station is the hub of communication with satellites. It acquires a fixed position and sends corrections to all the machines on the mountain equipped with GPS to precisely navigate in relation to the digital surface model.

A resort has the option to buy its own base station. Or, if it’s in an area where a network like Topcon’s TopNETlive has coverage, the staff can take advantage of that existing option.

System Set Up
When detailed info is gathered, the next step is setting up the snow cats with GPS hardware and the office with a complementing software. RDO Integrated Controls’ snow grooming technology solution pairs Topcon GPS and ARENA slope management software to provide the complete management package. Additional hardware can be installed for more functionality, such as detailed fleet management.

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When the system is in place, training must be conducted for all team members involved in the process, from managers to snow groomers to technicians. A good partner will also work with the resort team to ensure all understand the software and how to view the data from snow cats.

Continued Conversations
The final step in getting technology up-and-running on the mountain involves ongoing communication between the resort and its partner. Especially in the first season, the two should work together to review and analyze the data, then discuss how it can be used to make decision for better efficiency and results.

Additionally, strategies can be developed to put the system to use year-round. Resorts that offer summer attractions like mountain biking, hiking, or alpine slides can use the system to properly map out those areas and specific features, while taking care to address obstacles that could be hazardous to guests.

Preparation for next snow season is typically done in the summer months as well and may include new infrastructure for snowmaking, including trenching, pipes, hydrants, and placement of the snowmaking machines. Additionally, GPS can be used on construction equipment like dozers, excavators, and other heavy equipment, and dialed into the existing base station, turning the resort into a true year-round user of technology.Quote2_3StepstoEntry_Jan19

With proper implementation, a system like RDO Integrated Control’s Topcon GPS and ARENA ski slope management software can deliver better results, more efficient operation, and safer conditions for resorts of all sizes.

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About the Author
After spending more than 35 years of his life on mountains, both as a skier and working in various roles, Rick Hefley is passionate about snow grooming and management, and understands what goes into making quality slopes and terrain parks. As National Ski Account Manager with RDO Integrated Controls, he draws on 20 years of technology, software, and GIS experience to help resorts successfully implement slope management solutions. Connect with him on Twitter @RDOICRickH.

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