Ask Curtis Anything...

Ask Curtis Anything...

Because we've got so many questions about Slopes over the past few seasons, last week we opened up an AMA list on social media, trying to put them all together and shed some light on the "mysteries" of Slopes 🧐.

There are also a couple of surprises for the future that aren't yet ready to come to light, but I've tried my best to answer the most popular questions, so here it goes, starting with "the one and only":

Can’t you make the app start automatically when I’m at the resort?

I knew this question was coming ;). It is a dream feature of mine.

What it would come down to is I’d need to be like one of the weather apps, where Slopes gets your location in the background every 15 minutes, and from there I could see when you get close to a lift. But then Slopes is running in the background all the time, seeing your every move, even during the summer when you don't need it. That's just a bit creepy for an app like Slopes.

There is some other tech like geofences (which is what Slopes uses to let you create smart reminders), but the system limits apps to about a dozen at a time, so you’d have to pick the resorts for it to work at, which is basically the Slopes on iOS location-based reminder system anyway -> Slopes Pro Tip: Recording Reminders.

When is Slopes going to implement a “find my friend” feature?

I hope to at one point! The biggest issues are battery usage and poor cell reception. I’d have to keep your location up-to-date-ish on the server throughout the day, and nothing drains phone batteries like trying to use the internet on poor cell reception. So it is a balance between killing your battery and making sure when your friends check that your location isn’t 30min out of date.

Even Apple’s Find My Friends app is hit-or-miss on the mountains due to poor reception; I need to make sure I do better than them, and that's no easy task. Especially now that is has to work on iOS and Android.

Why are there no public leaderboards on Slopes?

I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and the absence is very intentional.

People can be very competitive, and a byproduct of a public leaderboard is a subset of people pushing themselves past the point of safety in order to chase someone else on the leaderboard. If they do anything dangerous it is easy to say that is their fault, etc etc, but at the end of the day I can’t ignore Slopes would be feeding that competitive nature. I believe the mountains are better off without this feature.

I forgot to stop the app at the end of the day and it recorded my driving. Can you do something about it?

Yes! So on iOS, you can hit the Edit button in the top right corner when you’re looking at your day (or the +/- runs just above the mini-map) to head into the timeline editor. From there you can delete the runs or lifts Slopes thought you might be on (#protip you can use this editor to make any other corrections you might need, like if you rode a lift downhill and it counted as a run) -> Slopes Pro Tip: Edit Your Day.

On Android, this is the feature being worked on right now. You’ll be able to edit old days when it comes out, so there is nothing to worry about.

Strava says I had a higher speed today. But Slopes gives me a lower top mph? Why?

Slopes measures a sustaining top speed. In other words, you need to sustain a top speed for a second or two for it to register in the stats. For the vast majority of the time with how people ride, this works out just fine, but if you’re cruising at 30mph and zip up to 45 for 2 seconds and then settle back down, it might only register 43 or 44. This smoothing that Slopes does helps avoid a lot of issues with bad data, but can end up missing quick bursts of speed.

Why doesn’t Slopes export GPS data to Apple Health?

It does now! The update that came out at the end of March added support for it.

(My original reason for the delay was I was worried about how much data it could take up, given we are talking about 4,000 GPS data points a day, and I didn’t want to be responsible for bloating someone’s HealthKit database. But ended up being no bad.)

Will the iOS app and Android have feature parity soon?

Slopes on iOS has been around since 2013, so that is a 7 year head start on development. Android has a lot of catching up to do ;). My teammate working on Android (shout out to DeRon, he rocks) is part-time, and while he’s pretty damn awesome, he can only code so fast. He not only has all the existing iOS features to implement, but also all the new stuff I’m cooking up (isn’t like iOS is standing still).

So direct answer? You will see constant progress towards that goal, but it is going to take a while. We’re 100% dedicated to making Slopes on Android awesome, and he’s going to give Slopes enough time and attention to not only fix bugs, but also ship multiple major features.

Maybe in a year or so Slopes will be able to afford him full-time and see if I can’t steal him from his current job.

What do you think about webcam support for the resorts?

I think it’d be cool, really cool. Nothing stopping me here tech-wise, I just have to figure out if there are any copyright / licensing restrictions to the cams. After all, they are run by the resorts, so I need to make sure nothing legal is going to bite me in the butt.

Can we integrate a more specific uphill touring capability?

One of the projects I’m juggling right now is to make Slopes work a lot better for winter sports that aren’t just skiing at a resort, aka “alpine skiing.” That includes things like understanding when you were skinning uphill (and calling that out as a “hike” vs a lift).

How many people have gotten the special stealth pin?? Is it possible??

Totally possible! I’ve given out somewhere between 100 - 200 so far. Follow Slopes on IG; in non-COVID years I’ll post where I’m riding throughout the season.

What’s your home resort and your favorite resort to visit?

Technically my home resort is Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania, but I never go there anymore (too crowded & too tiny). I tend to go to Vermont a lot and crash with a friend at Stowe for 3-4 days at a time. Probably the closest to a home mountain I have nowadays.

Favorite? Whistler Blackcomb or Breck. But there are a lot of resorts I haven’t visited yet!

Can’t you have in-app advertising as a revenue instead of subscriptions?

Advertising is based on you being in the app and looking at it (“ad impressions”). Most people leave their phone in their pocket all day while Slopes does its thing. Those two don’t go well together, ha. There was another ski app that tried in-app advertisements as a revenue model and with them you had to watch a video ad before you started recording (and the Watch app would make you open your phone to watch a video before recording, too). That’s the kinda stuff they had to pull to get enough impressions, and that’s just user hostile in my opinion. I want Slopes to get out of your way, not be a burden.

I also, personally, don’t want to contribute to all the data-tracking that is going on with the advertising industry. I’d be incentivized to share your location data with ad networks, for example. It is a slippery slope of user privacy being traded for money, and I strongly believe in respecting your privacy.

I think subscriptions are a win for everyone. Slopes doesn't get paid unless we keep making it awesome, and when people support Slopes with a subscription they know they’re going to get awesome new features every year. It directly aligns incentives.

Is it so high-maintenance? What are some of the resources Slopes needs?

To start with, there’s the online infrastructure I run to power Slopes. Web server, database server, etc, that can handle tens of thousands of recordings in a day, and even more in peak season (Slopes went past the 5mil recordings mark). I actually just spent this week tuning the web server to work even better to make sure it is in good shape for next season and can handle all the new users I expect.

My Android colleague is probably the biggest single “resource” Slopes needs right now. And mobile developers are expensive, ha. Customer support is another role Slopes needs, y’all wrote in thousands of emails this season.

Then, there’s app maintenance, beyond the usual bug-fixing you’d expect. Every year Apple and Google release their new OS’s in the fall, and we have to spend summers figuring out what new stuff of theirs you all will want Slopes to use, and build that. For example on iOS 14 we had widgets last summer - every app you use probably spent time designing and building those. I call that “platform maintenance” - both Apple, Google and you all expect Slopes to keep up to date with the latest and greatest goodies.

And last but certainly not least, a lot (if not most) of the resources go into making Slopes better every year. I mean lets be real; I work full-time on Slopes year round but I probably don't have to, it is in great shape as is. I could instead phone it in and only do bug-fixes (a true maintenance mode) and spend most of my time sipping drinks by the pool, but Slopes wouldn’t be what it is if I wasn’t constantly improving it. It is my passion project and I don't want to sit still with it.

Things like the new Resorts tab this season, with all the resort info & trail maps, the conditions, forecasts, that was months of work to build. I brought on a geo-spacial consultant recently to help me be ready for something I want to be able to do ~2 years from now.

There is so much awesome stuff I can see apps doing for the sport, and I’m spending most resources chasing that.

What features are on the horizon? Any dream features that have you stumped?

Like I said above, improving Slopes for other winter sports (and better in the backcountry) is something I’m actively working on now. Ask me again in 2 months (after Apple’s developer conference where they announce iOS 15) and I’m sure I’ll have a few more to share.

One problem that has had me stumped is mapping GPS coordinates in the real world to trail maps. AKA “show me where I am on the trail map, not a satellite map.” I know it is totally possible (GeoPDF), but how does one actually do the mapping? You’ve gotta build some kind of transformation matrix, but it isn’t a simple linear transform, like overlaying some other maps would be. Trail maps are complicated artist renderings that skew perspective (they don’t have any “scale” that is constant because they are drawn at an angle not top-down). And that’s just part of the problem, then how do you do that for 3,000+ resorts worldwide without needing hundreds of humans doing a bunch of manual labor? Fun times.

Well, this was just a small part of the AMA questions received, but hope it adresses at least some of your requests, hopes, curiosities, concerns, and even your frustrations about Slopes. Stay safe everyone! - Curtis