How to Understand the Terrain and Plan Better Routes


Update by Jon Williams

Often when I’ve been planning ski-tours or hut-to-hut hikes I’ve found myself having to draw upon multiple pieces of information from a variety of different sources to help me make informed decisions about my route. It’s always been a bit frustrating having to go from one website to the other, attempting to put all this information together.

Critical information

Factors like how much ascent, the avalanche risk, distance from point A to point B, where the flats are, etc. can all be critical in the deciding whether or not to actually go ahead and do that route. 

At FATMAP, we’ve addressed these needs with our terrain layers and zones - overlays on the map that you can easily enable, disable and switch between. These key tools are: Gradient, Aspect, Elevation, Distance, Avalanche and Flats.

Accessing the terrain tools

On both the web and mobile version, you can access the Terrain Tools on the right hand side of the screen by clicking or tapping on the Terrain Tools button:


This will open a panel where you can select from the six different overlays, four Terrain Layers (Gradient, Aspect, Elevation, Distance) and two Terrain Zones (Avalanche and Flats):

Terrain Layers

1. Gradient

Whether you’re checking out the steep sections of that hike you’re planning or finding out the exact angle of the black run you just did, the Gradient overlay shows the slope angle using a colour code from 0° (light green) to 90° (dark purple). 

2. Aspect

Knowing which way the slopes are facing helps you determine a number of important elements, including orientation, where the sun will fall and what sections of the route might be shaded. The Aspect overlay uses the colour code: North (blue), North East (light blue), East (white) South East (light orange), South (orange), South West (brown), West (black) and North West (dark blue).

3. Elevation

The height of a given area can be identified using the Elevation tool. Hover your cursor over the altitude bands (contour lines) or tap on the screen on mobile to reveal the vertical distance from sea level. The colour coding goes from 0m (light green) to 8000m+ (dark purple). You know what’s also great? The elevation distance between the lines will also automatically adjust as you zoom in and out. 

4. Distance

Although quite obvious, measuring distance is still a much needed and extremely useful tool. The Distance overlay gives you a grid that also automatically adjusts as you zoom in and out. You can even switch between metric and imperial by tapping on the units on the top of the screen (coming soon to the web version!).

Terrain Zones

1.    Avalanche

Unlike the gradient tool, our Avalanche overlay shows only the critical gradients most likely to cause an avalanche, from 25° (yellow) to 45°+ (dark red). This will aid your assessment of a given slope but must not be considered the only factor in determining avalanche risk or if a certain area is safe. 

2.    Flats

From a snowboarder’s worst nightmare to a potentially perfect picnic spot, our Flats tool will highlight all the flat areas on the map in green. 


If you’re an enthusiast wanting to know about more about your weekend hike or an experienced pro-athlete planning a new descent, these overlays will prove extremely useful to adventurers of all different abilities. 

Need to access the terrain data on-the-go in the mountains but don’t have any signal? Good news! All six overlays work with offline maps.

What terrain tool would you use the most? 

Jon WilliamsUpdatesComment