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.