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Duluth college student puts logic, science into skiing app

Avid nordic skier Spencer Pauly's Skiwise app provides up-to-the-minute trail reports, if there's snow.

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Spencer Paulis, a senior UMD computer science maor, has developed Skiwise, a new mobile app for your smartphone that allows skiers and groomer operators the chance to upload ski reports to share. (Photo courtesy Spencer Paulis)
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DULUTH -- Spencer Pauly loves nordic skiing, but he's picky about having well-groomed trails.

“I’d run into this problem, and my friends who ski would, where you’d drive out to a ski trail only to find it hadn’t been groomed recently, or that it had snowed since it had last been groomed,’’ said Pauly, a senior at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Then a little lightbulb went off in Pauly's head. Why not get cross country skiers to submit reports on their phones to share with everyone else?

That’s how the Skiwise app was invented.

“I got the idea about a year ago, and started it up last January, but it’s been pretty beta so far. We only had about 300 users last season, and I’m still working on some functions,’’ said Pauly, a computer science major from Shoreview, Minnesota.

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But already this season Skiwise is up to more than 1,000 users who have downloaded the app and are uploading trail reports. Until now most skiers have found the app by word of mouth. Obviously, with so little snow on the ground, the reports haven’t been great.

“It’s been kind of a rough winter so far for skiing,’’ Pauly noted.

The app is available to download, for free, at both the Apple app store and Google Play store. You can also visit the website at Skiwise-app.com.

Pauly hasn’t found any other mobile app that offers nordic ski trail condition reports. But his market is pretty big. He’s found some 750 cross country ski trail systems in the U.S. and Canada, including more than 400 in Minnesota and Wisconsin alone. Statista.com says there were about 5 million cross country skiers in the U.S. in 2017, up from 3.2 million in 2012 (but down from a peak of 5.8 million in 1988.) So far most of the Skiwise users, about 75%, are from Minnesota and Wisconsin, but some are from Canada and the New England states.

“I’m trying to keep it fun but informative. It’s fun because you can post how your ski went that day right in the report… Or maybe post about the kind of weather that’s been happening at the trail you’re at, or some big event coming up,’’ he said.

The premise is similar to the website skinnyski.com which has for years offered trail condition reports, nordic ski news and skier input. But Pauly wanted a mobile app you can call up quickly on your phone.
“So you can look at it when you are in your car and ready to go,’’ he noted. “And when you get done with your ski, and you are warming up in your car, you can post how the ski went.”

Pauly said the app is designed to be easy to use, with a map function showing trails and trail conditions near where you are located. He said skiers can upload their reports in less than 30 seconds.

In addition to hoping for more snow, Pauly, who has been active in the Nordic Ski Club at UMD, is hoping for more skiers and more trail managers/groomers to sign up and submit their reports and events. His favorite place to ski in the Northland is the Spirit Mountain/Magney-Snively trail system with its great views “and a lot of kilometers so you can just keep going.”

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Pauly also said he’s hoping Skiwise will help share his love of the sport, hoping Skwise will “build a community’’ among skiers and give them a “a better way to connect with others who share their passion.”

Pauly expects to graduate in May but already has a job lined up. He’s been offered a position with Target as a software engineer in their Twin Cities corporate headquarters campus.

Eventually, Pauly said, he hopes Skiwise could become self-sustaining — meaning it would make some money — both from ads and from “premium’’ subscriptions. So far, though he hasn’t figured that part out.

“It’s just a hobby at this point,” he said. “But it’s fun.”

Previously: Northland needs more snow and cold for winter fun

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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