WeHike raises European Space Agency funds and launches DeFROST project

WeHike, a Lausanne based startup building an Outdoors Digital Travel Agency, announces the kick-off of DeFROST project after confirming a grant from the European Space Agency (ESA) on the initiative. 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 businesses adapt to climate change.

WeHike started working together with the University of Zürich, the Zurich-based startup ExoLabs and the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) in Davos to build a first prototype of DeFROST (Detailed and Fast Remote Observation of Snow for Tourism), which will make possible to have an overview of the snow cover status over mountain trails and a prediction on whether a certain activity (e.g. hiking, biking or snowshoeing) is safe and feasible over a specific trail or not. Due to the integration of weather forecasts, the system aims at predicting the status of the trails for over five days in the future. The Swiss Alpine Club, SwissRando, Valrando and the Tourism Office of Evolène have expressed their interest and are collaborating in the project as potential future users.

As WeHike’s cofounder and CTO Daniel García explains “Today it is hard to find information about the trail’s snow conditions. In the Alps, aside of 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 Nêuchatel found out that since 1970, snow arrives to 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, WeHike 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.” says Daniel García, a Software Engineer who also guided more than 450 people on hiking trips in the Swiss Alps.

Funded by the European Space Agency’s Integrated Applications Programme, DeFROST has already taken off.

(Press release - Daniel García)