It may not be the same as strapping on a pair of skis and swishing through fresh powder down Big Emma or Regulator Johnson, but those who can’t head up to Snowbird, Solitude or other Utah ski resorts can now go online and get an eye-level view of the state’s best ski runs.
Google, which makes the Street View feature of Google Maps, has now made several of Utah’s ski resorts available for view on its virtual mapping service.
By going to maps.google.com, you can zoom in on Snowbird, Solitude, Deer Valley Resort or Wolf Mountain Resort (about 15 miles northeast of Ogden) and select most of the ski runs, where you can see them from eye-level.
“It gets you a better feel for what the terrain is actually like — if it’s too steep for you, or how wide the runs really are, or if they’re good for your kids,” said Nick Como, Solitude’s director of marketing and public relations, who worked with Google when it visited the resort last March.
“It’s awesome that Google did it for free and made it free to the public,” he added. “It’s great to see what it is like before planning to go on a vacation. But you also can go on vacation in your mind when you’re at your desk in New York City or wherever.”
Since it launched in 2007, Google’s Street View has been a popular way to be virtually transported to other parts of the world via a desktop computer or mobile phone. A user can see a 360-degree panoramic view of an area by zooming all the way in from Google Maps.
In the beginning, Google was building street views of city streets with its camera system on a car. The car simply drives through the city, snapping thousands of digital photos as it moves along each street. Those photos are then “stitched” together with software and programmed into Google Maps.
It has captured all kinds of street life in 22 countries, including people in everyday situations, and has even been the subject of complaints involving invasion of privacy. Google, however, claims the pictures are taken from public streets and are simply used to help people see destinations they may be interested in visiting.
In the past several years, the Mountain View, Calif., company has built a trike with the special camera in order to record places that a car wouldn’t fit, like mountain trails and walkways. It also mounted the camera on a snowmobile. Both were taken to Utah last spring to shoot the resorts.
The idea to first shoot images from a ski resort occurred to Google in 2009 when it decided to take images of Whistler, British Columbia, for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
“We used a car to drive around the area of the mountain, then we took the trike along the village,” said Daniel Ratner, staff mechanical engineer at Google who created the Google trike. “Then we took a snowmobile and went up and down the slopes.”
Google approached the four Utah resorts to record street views the same way it did at Whistler. It also has a Street View Partnership Program in which colleges, businesses and other points of interest can contact Google to have their areas recorded for free.
“Vacation is very word-of-mouth, and this is another outlet for people to see what they’re really going to get,” said Deer Valley Resorts communications manager Emily Summers. “They want the most information they can get before they get there, and visual is very key.”
Google would not say if other Utah resorts would be recorded in this unique but popular method. But Ratner said they are looking at taking street views of other places including national parks and other out-of-the-way destinations.
“Knowing geographic information is really important to users. It’s something we as humans want to know where we are and where we are going — to see pictures of real places ahead of time,” he said. “We’re always looking for ways to increase our access to places that people like.”