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Brand new DeFROST project to use satellite snow detection for outdoors tourism

The Lausanne based start-up WeHike just announced the official launch of its DeFROST (Detailed and Fast Remote Observation of Snow for Tourism) project after having received a grant from the European Space Agency (ESA). The future system aims at using ESA’s satellites to provide fast and accurate data on snow cover over mountain trail networks, allowing tourists to better plan their next activity while helping the outdoors tourism industry adapt to climate change.

WeHike worked with the University of Zurich, the Zurich-based startup ExoLabs and the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) in Davos to build a first prototype of the system. Thanks to DeFROST, it will be possible to have an overview of the snow cover status over mountain trails and clear information on whether a certain activity (e.g. hiking, biking or snowshoeing) is safe and feasible over a specific trail or not. Thanks to the integration of weather forecasts, the system aims at predicting the status of the trails for more than five days ahead. The Swiss Alpine Club, SwissRando, Valrando and the Tourism Office of Evolène already collaborate in the project as potential future users.

On the occasion of the launch, WeHike’s cofounder Daniel García, a Software Engineer and experienced mountain guide, explained: “Today it is hard to find information about the trail’s snow conditions. In the Alps, aside from the most popular summer months, it is hard and risky to plan any activity during spring and autumn. Most people decide to stay at home and some others take unnecessary risks, leading to both missed great experiences under perfect conditions as well as potential accidents due to this lack of data.”

The SLF and the University of Neuchâtel found out that since 1970, snow arrives in the Alps on average 12 days later, while it melts 25 days earlier, leading to important losses for many ski resorts and their dependent economies. Today, up to 15% of the Swiss ski resorts are considered to be unreliable in terms of snow cover, a number which is expected to raise to up to 37% by 2030. However, this also represents an opportunity to extend the traditional summer season, as Daniel García suggests:

“For years the outdoors tourism industry has operated within fixed summer and winter seasons, while the reality today is that winter keeps shrinking and summer expanding. DeFROST aims at raising public awareness and safety while helping affected businesses and local economies adapt and thrive. The current technology will allow us to predict the feasibility of outdoor activities over any trail.”