Tag Archive for: onx backcountry

Backcountry Planning : How Bluebird’s Education Team Uses onX

I track my routes and monitor the elevation gain, time, and mileage so I can guesstimate how a group might handle that route based on their experience. I also love the offline use feature. ” – Karen R. 

“The ability to easily plan routes on onX Backcountry and have all the tools I need for finding avalanche forecasts, weather, established trails, and access points makes my job as an avalanche educator far more simple.” – Erika L. 

“The elevation profile and tracking option for distance traveled while in the backcountry is great with onX.” – Aidan G.

“Even as a professional, it’s easy to get lost. onX is a reliable tool to help me figure out where I am in the backcountry.” – Jeff W.

These are just a few of the reasons why Bluebird’s education team loves using onX Backcountry for both work and personal days in the mountains. We’ve broken down how this team of professionals uses onX to gather information and prepare for backcountry tours, both small and large. Plus, we discuss the important skills and how to gain them. Let’s dive in!

A Bluebird staff member uses onX to spot good terrain to ride off the top of Bear Mountain. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Initial Planning Steps

One of the best parts of onX Backcountry’s snow mode is that all the resources needed to plan a backcountry tour are integrated into the digital map — this simplifies the planning process and cuts out the need to dig through multiple tabs to find the right resources.

1. Avalanche forecast

The first step of planning a tour is reading the avalanche forecast. Through onX Backcountry we simply pick a general touring zone and click the colored overlay on the map to see what the avalanche forecast is for the day. Bluebird’s education team always makes sure to read the full forecast — including the general summary and detailed summary — by clicking the external link to the avalanche forecasting center’s website.

2. Weather forecast

onX Backcountry has an integrated weather forecast for wherever we’re planning an adventure. When the application is open, there’s a green dot in the top right corner; this takes us to the specific weather for our current GPS location. We can also get point-specific weather by clicking any trail head or established route on the map. Gathering weather data helps determine what location is best for a tour and the general conditions we’ll be managing when in the backcountry.

The ease of finding both the avalanche and weather forecasts through onX snow mode makes this step of planning much easier. Photo: Erika Lee

3. Choosing an area

There are many tools on this mapping software that help us decide the best backcountry touring location based on the avalanche danger, avalanche problem, and weather for the day. Here’s what Bluebird’s team likes to use.

Slope angle shading overlay — Perhaps our group decided that due to considerable avalanche danger, we’re avoiding all terrain above 30º in slope steepness — this is where the slope angle shading tool comes in handy. We can find areas that are below 30º or out of avalanche terrain and set an uphill and downhill route options based on the slope-angle shading. This tool is not a substitute for the observations made while in the field. It’s still critical to pay attention to surrounding terrain when following a set skin track or route. Bonus, there’s now a slope aspect overlay that helps us establish which aspects are facing what direction and what we’d like to ride based on the slopes aspect. 

3D map mode – We’re always looking for terrain traps and subtle topographic features that should be avoided when traveling in and around avalanche terrain. The 3D map mode is super helpful for spotting creeks, gullies, or benches, and identifying what type of terrain we may be traveling through — trees, open bowls, or a complex mixture of both.

Combining slope angle and 3D map mode allows us to investigate terrain and understand what our route options may be. Photo: Erika Lee

Pre-established trails – With information from Beacon Guide Routes and Powder Project pre-loaded onto the snow mode, onX Backcountry offers beta and pictures including where to start a tour, parking lots, established trails and common lines to ski or ride. Bluebird’s team loves this tool when exploring a new zone.

4. Mapping route options

Now it’s time to actually set a plan A, B, and C for the day. It’s always good to have multiple uptrack and downtrack options on a tour in case the snow or weather is different than expected. Using the route planning tool allows us to actually lay out a route on the map and add in waypoints as markers for locations to assess the snowpack, discuss options, and transition. We can calculate total distance and elevation profiles by creating a route, then average out travel time based on the elevation and distance profile. Using the slope angle shading and 3D modes are critical when planning our descent routes, as this helps us see what is skiable, what is within the acceptable slope angle, and what areas to avoid. Some experts like to mark the areas to avoid by using the shape drawing tool — this way we can visually see zones to stay out of when in the backcountry.

Easily build a route on a computer, while in service, or when offline in the backcountry. Photo: Erika Lee

Final Planning Steps

Once we’ve established a plan, it’s time to double check the weather, avalanche conditions, and snowpack in that zone. onX Backcountry enables us to do all of that directly from the phone or computer.

1. Check past & present conditions

With built-in SnoTel data points, we can find the snow depth, windspeed, and new snow totals, temperature, and other information by clicking the black and white snowflake icon in a location close to the zone we’re planning to visit. By gathering these details, we build a history of the snowpack and correlate the avalanche forecast to the specific zone we’re planning to visit.

2. Add notes & waypoints for reference

It’s a good idea to highlight specific spots that we’ll stop at, gather information, or check in with the group. Bluebird’s team likes to add waypoints and name the point based on location and purpose — for example “transition point” or “option A descent”. onX provides pre-loaded titles for waypoints, like “camp spot” or “pit location”, making it quick and simple to add these waypoints when we’re scouting for future courses, winter camp locations, or good snow data collection points.

Don’t forget to label waypoints. onX makes this simple with built-in types of waypoints and the option to name each point. Photo: Erika Lee

3. Download maps

Once we’ve established a plan and built route options, we can easily download the routes, waypoints, and full map (including slope overlay and 3D mode) for offline use. If you’re interested in learning more about how to use digital maps for navigation, check out Bluebird’s Backcountry 3 lesson where you’ll learn all things maps and navigation.

4. Share routes

It is easy to share routes, waypoints, and any notes with a touring group through onX. We quickly send a shareable link from a computer or phone via a text or email, and our friends can open it on their onX Backcountry application. When a file is shared, it automatically saves on their account (but the user must still download the map for offline use). Don’t forget to always share your route and general tour plan with someone outside of your touring group in case of an emergency.

Continuing to assess the terrain and snowpack when in the backcountry is critical to having a successful and fun day in the mountains. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

Important Skills to Aquire

While GPS navigation tools and online resources make it relatively easy to plan a backcountry tour, there are critical skills that must be acquired before entering the backcountry. Here are the important things for you to know, and opportunities to learn these skills. 

1. Know how to recognize avalanche terrain

Take an AIARE avalanche course, then practice with a Backcountry 3 lesson to build an understanding for navigation and identifying avalanche terrain. In these courses, you’ll start to learn how to know what’s underneath the surface of the snow — developing a history of the snowpack helps you recognize the potential avalanche danger.

2. Practice with avalanche rescue techniques and gear

While avoiding avalanche terrain all together is a solid plan for backcountry travel, accidents happen. It’s necessary for any form of backcountry travel in the winter to both carry avalanche rescue gear and know how to use it. Taking an Avalanche Rescue course every season is a critical part of responsible backcountry travel.

3. Obtain basic emergency skills

Preparing for the unexpected is a critical step in responsible backcountry travel. Understanding what to do in case of a winter emergency and carrying the proper equipment are two more steps in building your backcountry tool kit. Check out Bluebird’s Winter Emergency Skills blog to learn all about these skills.

4. Know how to move through backcountry terrain

If you’re new to the sport of touring, consider taking an introduction to backcountry touring course, and building upon those skills with other lessons to understand how to use your gear and move through winter environments.

5. Learn group management and decision making skills

Touring alone is never a good idea. And when traveling with multiple people, group dynamics always pop up. Develop group management skills and understand how to move a group and yourself through terrain by taking an AIARE 1 or 2 avalanche course.

onX Backcountry: The Digital Mapping Tool for Everyone

Whether you’re a seasoned expert or new to the world of trip planning and touring, onX Backcountry’s snow-focused mapping software is a great tool to start using today. It has a simple yet thorough platform, with accurate and effective tools. Here’s what you need to know:

Main Benefits

Perhaps you’re new to the task of tour planning and off-trail navigation, or maybe you’ve been using mapping software for a while but want an all-inclusive option… either way you’ve found what you’re looking for. With intuitive and user-friendly applications (both phone and desktop), it’s easy to start planning routes. More experienced backcountry travelers will find that this comprehensive option has everything you need in one place — 3D imaging, established routes, weather information, and so much more. 

onX Backcountry has preloaded trails and crowd-sourced maps for winter-specific sports — a super helpful asset when you’re exploring a new area and looking for the best parking lot or a trailhead. Bonus, there’s detailed descriptions and photos for popular routes to help you plan.

Find winter-specific ascent routes and the established ski descents all in one place on onX Backcountry. Photo: Erika Lee

If you’re not tech savvy, or have trouble grasping the difference between .kml and .gpx files, onX makes it simple to share routes, waypoints, and notes between friends. Send an onX specific link (via text or email) from the phone app or desktop website that your touring buddies can directly open the link on their computer or phone. Any notes you’ve made are also included with the routes and waypoints you share — making beta-sharing between friends and future trip planning much easier. Along with shared routes or waypoints comes any notes you’ve made — this makes sharing beta between friends and future trip planning much easier. Whether you like planning on your computer or phone, both options are similar and easy to use. Routes and waypoints added on a desktop will automatically download to your phone application, saving you time and skipping the hassle of exporting and importing files.

Mapping software not only helps you avoid avalanche terrain, but when combined with the weather and snowpack knowledge, it helps you find the best stashes of powder. Photo: Doug McLennan


The merging of various online resources and a mapping software is one of the best parts of onX Backcountry. No need to separately reference Powder Project or other guidebooks when looking for the best off-piste ski line, parking lot or campsite in a zone — all these resources are pre-loaded onto both the Snow and Trail modes. Plus, you can easily switch these modes depending on the season and travel plans, which will change the trails and assets shown. 3D satellite or topographic maps are accessible on both the phone and desktop — a helpful tool for visualizing terrain when pre-trip planning and orienting yourself to the terrain when you’re out there.

The Avalanche Forecast is a separate layer available on both the desktop and phone applications — turn this layer on, click the colored forecast zone you’re interested in and scroll down to see the avalanche hazard rating for the day and find a link to the full forecast. Make sure to read the full avalanche forecast page if you’re planning a winter backcountry tour. Other map overlays include the slope angle shading (helpful for avalanche awareness) plus satellite, topographic, and hybrid map modes. Toggle between map modes, turn on and off the avalanche forecast and slope angle, and switch between 2D and 3D on both a phone and desktop to find the perfect map mode for any adventure.

Weather information is integrated into onX Backcountry. Click an avalanche forecasting zone and scroll down on the information page — you’ll find a general weather forecast for the area on this page. Alternatively, get point-specific weather and snowpack information by clicking the black snowflakes marking specific Sno-tel sites. The green circle in the top right hand corner gives you weather data for your GPS location when you have cell service or wifi.

Use onX Backcountry to quickly access the avalanche forecast in the zone you’re planning to visit. Photo: Erika Lee

In the Field Use

When taking navigation from the comfort of your couch and into the field, you can easily download onX maps for offline use. This can be done on the computer or from your phone — all routes, waypoints, slope angle overlays, and avalanche hazard overlays will be automatically downloaded for use while out of cell service. The blue dot is your GPS location, illuminating the cardinal direction your phone is facing — this comes in handy when conditions quickly change or when navigating in complex terrain. Also, for navigation purposes you can set the map to always face north on your phone, similar to google maps. 

When you’re in the backcountry it’s easy to create new routes and see the total distance and elevation gain/loss of these routes. Add waypoints while you’re traveling and use preset labels to mark avalanche paths, good view points, or the perfect spot for camping on future trips. You can even include photos or detailed notes in each waypoint for future reference.

When visibility quickly decreases, it’s nice to have a navigation tool to get you safely back to the trailhead. Photo: Justin Wilhelm

The Confidence to Set Your Own Skin Track

As onX Backcountry continues to evolve their software, they’re quickly becoming the go-to application for on and off-trail navigation, all year long. For ski tourers in search of an easy to use, functional, and accurate mapping software, onX Backcountry is an excellent choice — the tools explained above help you navigate with more confidence in winter environments and return home safely for another day of touring. 

The Bluebird Backcountry team uses onX for all things navigation at Bear Mountain, as well as in Backcountry Lessons and AIARE courses. In partnership with onX Backcountry, Bluebird guests get a 1-month free trial of their Backcountry app, and AIARE student’s get 4 months for free! Put your onX skills to the test at Bluebird, or take a navigation–specific course such as Backcountry 3: Navigation and Avalanche Prep or Reading Terrain to learn advanced skills for winter travel and get in-person instructions on how to use onX Backcountry.

onX Backcountry: The Best Way To Get Around Bluebird Backcountry

We’re partnering with onX Backcountry to provide a convenient, online map where all of our trails are listed right in their app.

Welcome to Bluebird Backcountry, where the crowds are minimal, you’ve got the comfort of avalanche-controlled terrain, and all the uphill your legs can handle. To make it easier to plan your day and get around, onX Backcountry — the go-to trail guide and GPS mapping app for all human-powered snow adventures — now allows for easy access to view our terrain offerings. With onX Backcountry in your pocket, you’ll feel confident heading out onto the skin track and into endless powder stashes.

Bluebird riders transition at the top of West Bowl.

First Things First

Our partnership with onX Backcountry grants all 2021/2022 Bluebird Backcountry visitors and season passholders a free one-month subscription to their Premium Membership. For all of those taking an AIARE course here, you’ll have access to onX Backcountry’s suite of features for a 4-month trial period. The Premium Membership includes a Slope Angle Layer helpful for finding low-angle terrain, unlimited Offline Maps for poor cell-service areas, and SNOTEL — which provides the most up-to-date snow data in the West.

Prior to arriving at Bluebird Backcountry, follow the steps sent to you in your confirmation email. Download and experiment with the app to get familiar before you’ll need it in the field.

The Lost in the Woodwards skin track wraps through the aspens to the top of West Bowl.

All Your Routes In One Place

Using onX Backcountry, find Bluebird Backcountry by typing it into the search bar. Once there, you’ll see things such as skin tracks, various trails, zones marked open or closed, and other difficulty indicators throughout the map. This will be your go-to throughout your day. Make sure to toggle Tracker on for a readout of your elevation gain, speed, and distance.

A guest rides down a mellow slope in a Backcountry Lesson at Bluebird.

Slope Angle

While we mitigate all avalanche risk within the bounds of our ski area, you’ll be able to access the onX Slope Angle Layer to evaluate inclines of a given slope. This is a great time to test yourself on evaluating the angle of a given slope for when it’s time to head into the backcountry.

The Portal at the base area of Bluebird Backcountry.


The onX Basemaps are a great source of topographic information: the satellite view outlines terrain information such as tree density, and displays points of interest like breweries — because, après.

OnX Backcountry – the best navigation tool for winter recreation.

Last Thing

Before you come on out, make sure to download Bluebird as an Offline Map. Signal can be spotty, so it’s best to get that out of the way before you start putting in laps.

For more help, check out onX Backcountry’s support center.