Okanagan coder creates text messaging service for Rogers Pass backcountry

Will Zittlau’s daily SMS service informs people what areas are open during winter in GNP

What areas are open at Rogers Pass for Jan. 8 (Screenshot)

What areas are open at Rogers Pass for Jan. 8 (Screenshot)

A Kelowna coder has recently created a text messaging service on what areas are open for backcountry enthusiasts heading for Rogers Pass.

In a usual winter, Will Zittlau said he might go skiing in Glacier National Park every weekend.

While he has yet to make the trek this winter due to COVID-19, Zittlau has created a simple SMS service for people to get updates on what areas are open in Rogers Pass.

What areas are open at Rogers Pass for Jan. 8 (Screenshot)

For Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park, explosive artillery fire is regularly used on mountain slopes to protect the highway and railway from natural avalanches.

As such, the Winter Permit System was created to separates skiers from artillery fire and the resulting avalanches and is separated into three categories: winter restricted areas (WRA), winter prohibited areas (WPA) and winter unrestricted areas (WUA).

WRA may close or open daily, WPA are closed all winter and WUA are always open.

Each morning at 7 a.m., Parks Canada provides updates on their website for which WRA are open.

READ MORE: Get an annual winter permit says Parks Canada to Rogers Pass users

Living in Kelowna, Zittlau said he usually has to leave at 5 a.m. to go skiing at Rogers Pass. Zittlau said he wanted to make it easier for people to go skiing, especially when driving from several hours away.

He also wanted a new challenge.

Zittlau graduated from engineering last spring, but due to COVID-19 could not find work. Interested in computers, he spent the summer teaching himself to code.

Zittlau spent weeks creating RogersPass-SMS which turns Park Canada’s Rogers Pass data into a text message.

If anyone wants to know what WRA are open or closed, they can text “update” to (347) 754-3962 to elicit a response.

While the service is free, each text message interaction costs roughly three cents. Depending on how popular the service becomes, Zittlau said he might eventually ask for donations.

“We’ll see how this month goes,” he said.

So far, more than 100 people have signed up.

READ MORE: Avalanche Canada to rely more heavily on recreational skiers for avalanche forecasting

Zittlau’s passion for coding, however, has turned into a career as he was recently hired as a software developer. His new employers found the RogersPass-SMS on his resume impressive.

“I’ve done a complete 180 for work,” he said with a laugh.

Due to COVID-19 and the rise of remote working, the tech industry is booming.

Zittlau also created an app this summer that combines weather and avalanche data into one location.

“All my stuff is ski-related,” he said.

Because this is a third-party app, Zittlau states on his website, there is no guarantee on the accuracy of the data.

“Always check the official Parks Canada resource before venturing into a Winter Restricted Area,” reads the website.

Parks Canada said while Zittlau’s service is convenient, it still urges people to ultimately check the agency’s website or phone 250-837-SKIS (7547) for a recorded and official update on what areas are open daily.

“There is no room for error when firing live ammunition for avalanche control. Parks Canada would like to remind Rogers Pass backcountry users that you need to be 100% certain which Winter Restricted Areas are open every day,” reads a Facebook post from the agency.

Parks Canada said it does not endorse any third party notification tools for the Winter Permit System.

“Any use of such applications is done at the users’ own risk.”


 

@pointypeak701
liam.harrap@revelstokereview.com

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Will Zittlau is an avid skier and spent the summer learning to code. (Submitted)

Will Zittlau is an avid skier and spent the summer learning to code. (Submitted)

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