I was relieved to find out that Esri had professional services and that I could access expertise to help me with the overarching vision and the implementation. It was amazing.
Entrepreneur's Dream Ski App Empowered by GIS and Location Intelligence
Founded in 2019, Mappy is a mobile app developer and data analytics company revolutionizing the guest experience through analysis and socialization of geospatial movement. The company's first app, Snow Mappy, is for ski resort guests, and it leverages powerful geospatial technology to enhance user experiences on the slopes. There are three pillar functions for Snow Mappy: find, navigate, and interact. Snow Mappy users can search for amenities and locate their friends and family on interactive 2D and 3D maps. The app plots courses based on user-defined skill levels and location intelligence. Snow Mappy functionalities provide users with a safer, more exciting, individualized experience as they enjoy their favorite wintertime sports.
The journey to creating maps that make you happy began when the founder needed a "survival" tool to keep up with her skilled snowboarding husband while traversing the slopes.
"My husband is from Utah and an expert skier and snowboarder. I grew up in California and am at an intermediate level, at best. Often, we would go to the top of the mountains, he would disappear down a run, and I would suddenly find myself confused, knowing I could inadvertently end up on a double black diamond or the wrong part of the mountain," says Karyn Nolan, cofounder and CEO of Mappy. "I've been in the geospatial industry for 25 years, and as I was pulling out large, unwieldy paper maps, I thought there has to be a better way!"
With her experience in the industry, Nolan knew real-time information and geospatial technology could not only enhance the user experience but also offer a plethora of data for ski resorts and even assist first responders locate injured skiers. With a clear vision in mind, she set out to create an app to modernize the winter sporting experience.
Nolan's journey led her to the 2019 Esri User Conference where she attended a technical workshop for developers to gain an understanding of what she would need to build Snow Mappy. Given that Nolan was not a developer by trade, the instructor recommended that she attend the developer clinic hosted by Esri Services at the Esri User Conference Expo. There, Nolan connected with Josh Peterson, a developer consultant, for a face-to-face discussion about her ideas.
"I felt like this lightbulb had gone off over my head when I was sitting with Josh sharing my big idea. I wasn't sure it was doable, and I was trying to figure out if I could afford to jump in with both feet. Josh gave me the confidence to give it a whirl," says Nolan. "He outlined the specifics of how to develop the app in a way that felt doable, so it began to be more than just a vision."
With a clear plan of what she needed, Nolan and her team spent the next year and a half developing Snow Mappy.
- Mappy cofounder and CEO Karyn Nolan connected with Esri Services to create a mobile ski app for snow enthusiasts and resort users, powered by geospatial and location technologies.
- After a year and a half in development, Snow Mappy mobile app launched in February 2021 and features real-time location intelligence, group location sharing, turn-by-turn navigation, and 2D/3D experiences.
- Nearly 1,500 iOS users across five resorts have downloaded the app, generating close to 7.5 million real-time skier data points.
Esri Services Assembles the Geospatial Engine and App Dream Team
For Nolan, the goal of her app was to blend the fun of winter sports with the power of geospatial technology in a platform to provide real-time navigation and connection for snow enthusiasts. But leveraging geographic information system (GIS) technology in an app environment for consumer use was no easy feat. Construction of the app would require multiple steps, complex datasets, and expert developers spanning multiple technologies to launch. Since Nolan was new to development, Esri Services would provide GIS consulting and guidance to the Mappy technical team. She was also connected to the Esri Startup program, an exclusive global support network that provides resources to early-stage startups to develop their organization and implement ArcGIS solutions. Through the program, Nolan was able to receive needed entrepreneur support and discounted access to Esri products to build her app.
After the conference, Esri Services and Mappy team members collaborated to assemble the technical architecture or the geospatial engine behind Snow Mappy. App components included creating custom network datasets built on ski lifts and runs instead of roads to provide real-time location and turn-by-turn navigation on 2D/3D maps. With the customized networks in place, ArcGIS Enterprise delivers the assets to the app interface, which uses ArcGIS Runtime API for iOS.
"What we do at Esri Services is provide the overarching, holistic view of solutions, and our day-to-day job is to figure out what parts of the ArcGIS system and other third-party systems can come together to solve real-world problems," says Peterson.
In addition to working as an engineer for the app, Peterson served as a principal technical adviser and liaison to connect Nolan with technical experts who understood the GIS/iOS/Android integration to help launch the consumer side of the app.
"For Karyn, Esri Services has served as an interim member of her team. She knew working with one of our consultants also meant access to a network of experts at Esri that could help with those hard technical decisions or connect her to business partners to augment her team. For a startup like hers, there often isn't a lead technologist to rely on. It isn't a role most would think of Esri Services playing, but we do it all the time," continues Peterson.
Nolan hired FreshWorks Studio to build the user experience (UX) and manage the app deployment. GEO Jobe, a longtime Esri partner that creates custom solutions to implement Esri technology, was brought in to assist the developers with implementing the ArcGIS Runtime API for iOS. Initial efforts from GEO Jobe developers focused on fixing some critical bugs within the app, such as loading and rendering of 2D and 3D scenes. They also provided frontline support for launch day. Since then, GEO Jobe's efforts have transitioned to the long-term improvements and future planning for Snow Mappy's technical architecture.
"Several aspects of this partnership have been rewarding—working directly with the Esri Services team, gaining exposure to the ski resort industry, and integrating with a startup organization," says Eric Goforth, director of professional services at GEO Jobe. "Snow Mappy intends to scale up rapidly in the coming ski season, and we are happy to be part of the team that is enabling that growth."
In addition to the consumer side of Snow Mappy, Nolan's vision for the app included a business-to-business service providing data analytics to ski resorts to improve their services and assist with decision-making. ArcGIS Dashboards and ArcGIS Velocity are being tested to provide a data analytics platform and data visualization.
"I was relieved to find out that Esri had professional services and that I could access expertise to help me with the overarching vision and the implementation. It was amazing," says Nolan. "It has been a long journey, a lot more than I anticipated, but I am grateful for the whole team, the startup program, and all the account managers who have guided me through the process."
Navigating the Slopes Ahead
Snow Mappy on iOS launched its beta season in February 2021 at five resorts across California, Colorado, Oregon, and Utah. Nearly 1,500 iOS users downloaded Snow Mappy, generating close to 7.5 million real-time skier data points. The app will be available for Android users in fall 2021 and expand to more resorts across the United States and Canada.
"We've come a long way in a short amount of time, and Esri Services has been critical to that," says Nolan. "Esri Services has made it possible for us to move faster and be at the forefront. The services team has the expertise on all the different products and technologies to help customers navigate what to do next."
Looking to the future, Nolan hopes to expand Snow Mappy's functionalities to include resort navigation using ArcGIS Indoors and augmented reality (AR). She is excited for GIS professionals to use the app.
"It is one thing to have the general public use the app, but it's another to have GIS professionals and the community of Esri technology users play around with it," says Nolan.
Encouraged by the entrepreneur support Nolan has received, she plans to expand Mappy apps to other markets such as relay races and mountain biking.
In considering her journey and leveraging geospatial technologies, Nolan advises other entrepreneurs to have confidence in themselves and their vision.
"Do what you love with a wonderful team because it will be a huge part of all aspects of your life. Be realistic with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who are better, smarter, and faster than you—especially in the areas that do not come easily to you. Then create business processes to move your vision forward," says Nolan.