Markle’s data-gathering snow probe will help skiers avoid avalanches


December 10, 2014

To understand what’s under their feet in the backcountry, a skier or snowboarder relies on an old tool: digging a snow pit. On or near the slope a skier wants to descend, he digs a hole roughly five feet deep in the snowpack, with a vertical face to the uphill side. Then a series of loading tests with arcane names like Stuffblock or Rutschblock determines how stable the snowpack is.

It’s time-consuming, inexact work and relies entirely on subjective interpretation of the results. Get it wrong and, as Brint Markle and his friends were, you’ll be lucky to ski out alive. Last season, there were 35 avalanche deaths in the U.S. alone. (Even experienced pros get caught; in September, veteran extreme skiers J.P. Auclair and Andreas Fransson were killed in an avalanche in Chile.)

So when Markle enrolled at MIT’s Sloan School of Business, his business idea was to try to help people get it right. If the hardest thing about backcountry safety is understanding the snow, Markle thought, perhaps technology offered a way to get fast, objective snowpack data that could be easily shared with others. Read the article on Wired photo courtesy Avatech

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