The brief: The mountains of New Zealand offer virtually endless opportunities for the adventurous mountaineer or backcountry skier or snowboarder. But the alpine environment in New Zealand also has many risks that are essential to understand and mitigate. The NZ Avalanche Advisory required a site that quickly highlighted any areas of danger due to avalanche or weather conditions, and inform them about snow conditions in general, so that people “know before they snow”.
Leading the Way
With over 26,500 Kiwis participating in mountaineering every year in NZ, we didn’t treat this website as having a niche audience. On the surface it needed to be accessible and engaging for everyone, whether they have alpine experience or not. But it also needed to have the depth and technical information available for those experienced in backcountry snow pursuits.
Along with the product owner, we identified that nearly every other country offered a very similar interface for displaying avalanche information. We decided to push the boundaries of what the user experience could be for a site like this, and offer a cutting-edge solution that put New Zealand above the status quo.
The main user interface on the Avalanche Advisory website is all about vital information being delivered quickly and effectively. Areas of concern, or high danger regions around the country are instantly identifiable with standard alert colour theory, and users have multiple ways to drilling down to find out more information.
We created a customised, lighter toned map interface to allow for these coloured regions to be visible - but when zooming in, users are still presented with vital layers of information such as topographical terrain and altitudes. Users can also switch to Satellite view for recognising geographical landmarks.
Life-saving, Real-time Data
One of the new features introduced to the website is the ability for members of the public to submit their own alpine observations and have them displayed immediately.
These observations are created and controlled within the same SilverStripe content management system as the main website, and this dynamic observations system gives people real-time information which could potentially save lives. By using responsive forms, users can drop a map pin marker (including their current geolocation), upload photos, and then efficiently enter in avalanche or snowpack details straight into the website.
Two Systems in One
On top of the Avalanche Advisory website, the client also required a whole newly engineered back-end system called Info-Ex, which is used by dozens of alpine-based administrators around the country. In order to collect essential alpine data from these users out in the field, we needed to also create an intuitive and easy to use tool.
Still powered by the SilverStripe content management system, it has helped speed up and improve accuracy in the information collected and therefore displayed on the website.
Every project has issues and roadblocks. Somar roll with the punches and learn from everything we do:
Exploring the Unknown
While we love the outdoors, it is pretty safe to say that the talented team at Somar isn’t highly experienced in alpine pursuits, or surviving avalanches. Because of this, there was a lot of technical knowledge that we needed to come up to speed with in order to comprehend, and improve the administration user experience. Research and regular discussions with the product owner soon brought us up to speed on everything from Persistent slabs through to Rutschblock Tests.
With years of historical test data stored in the Info-Ex system that required migration, we set out with a migration plan to ensure all data could be brought across to the new system. We worked closely with the product to ensure that all data, in its wide-ranging formats and structures, was mapped into a more well-structured database. This allowed for improved analysis and consistent display of data to users.