There is an ongoing debate about the pros and cons of digital versus printed maps. While some sources include both sides of the argument, it all comes down to your purpose for consulting the map in the first place. Trail map painter James Niehaus is the first to admit that the purpose of his maps (and resort/entertainment maps in general) is to focus on readability and the relative positioning of things, rather than geographical accuracy. When you take geographical accuracy out of the equation, many of the downsides to digital maps become irrelevant, or even turn into positives.
Here are the top 5 reasons why digital maps will work best for your next resort adventure.
1. You’re using the map to navigate, not for GPS
One of the main downsides that comes up often is the need for GPS location services, which might not be available for your next adventure mountain biking or going for a hike. Instead of trying to geolocate yourself and navigate with digital guidance, it’s likely more about finding where a lodge or trail is in relation to where you are (or last were). Digital works just fine for finding the lodge, lift, or run since it’s a different process than finding a certain storefront on a busy street, which can be hard even if you are using location services and Google or Apple-branded maps. These issues can stem from lags in connectivity with satellites, or even just errors in the data.
2. Errors in a printed map
As mentioned above, there can be errors in the data that compound other issues. Once a map is printed, viewers will need to wait until the next print run for corrections to any errors (lodges and shops opening or closing, lift/trail access, etc). Paper maps can be obsolete, especially if the resort is expanding and opening new terrain, or have places they need to close due to changing weather conditions. Digital maps can show in real time what trails and adventures await.
3. Paper maps show limited features
By necessity, paper maps will only show you a single view of the area. You will have to choose between large scale and small scale, or topography, or location of natural occurrences, or locations of services, or a variety of other things. In the event you choose all of the above, you will need to carry around an atlas to contain all of that information. On a digital map, you can zoom in or out, or even toggle different features to see what is available in real time. You can see open or closed status on lifts and trails, or even warnings if there is a known hazard on a certain route. Paper maps may also not show the difficulty of the terrain if you are mountain biking rather than skiing (since a trail map would be mostly focused on the ski side of the resort).
4. You need to remember to pick one up when you start your adventure
Speaking of that atlas you are carrying around, you need to remember to pick that up before you head out on your adventure. Digital maps are always in your pocket on your mobile device, which you are less likely to leave at home. In addition, there is a limited supply of paper maps, and they may not be immediately available to you if you aren’t stopping by the resort’s information desk and registering for a structured activity. Using digital, app-based maps allows you to control your own adventure without having to make stops.
5. Paper maps can be wrecked from repeated use
When you are out on your adventure your paper map can get wet or damaged, which will cause it to rip. Opening and closing it repeatedly will also cause wear, which will make it harder to read the information on the folds, and will eventually lead to ripping. Having a paper map may also lead to littering if you lose track of it, or if pieces come off as it wears out.