Visitors considering one of Lake Tahoe's resorts for a day of skiing or snowboarding can now virtually hit the slopes before they actually strap or step into their bindings.
Google's new ski resort mapping allows Internet surfers to explore ski area terrain through its Street View to get a feel for the mountain's ups and downs.
"(The resorts) find it's really great for prospective visitors from around the world who want to get that sneak peek before they come," said Google spokeswoman Deanna Yick.
Google now has most of Lake Tahoe's mountains mapped, including Squaw Valley USA, Northstar California, Heavenly Mountain Resort, Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort and its newest addition, Homewood Mountain Resort. It has also mapped dozens of other resorts around the world.
The company started Street View in 2007, using the infamous Google car that drives around with a very discernible roof-mounted camera system. In 2010, in anticipation of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, they wanted to do something special, Yick said.
"Basically, it all came about because of the demand we were getting from people who wanted to explore more than streets," she said.
The company mapped the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb so users from around the world could better experience the thrill of men's downhill or the parallel slalom.
To capture the runs, the mapping team created a snowmobile-mounted camera that records 360-degree views. Heavenly's Russ Pecoraro skied along with the operation when it visited the resort last year.
"It was actually a really cool experience," Pecoraro said. "We're pleased with the way it turned out."
Once the filming is done, Google puts the photos into its mapping software and blurs the faces of skiers and snowboarders gaping at the cameras. A few months later, the new first-person maps are launched.
"It's a great way to integrate technology into skiing and snowboarding," said Sierra-at-Tahoe spokesman Steve Hemphill.
All users have to do is type in the name of the ski resort they wish to see into Google Maps, put the little yellow Street View man into the blue lines on the slopes and navigate the ski resort using the arrows at the bottom of the image.
Ski resorts are just some of the many partners Google has worked with to create different Street View maps. They've also photographed and launched 360-degree, ground-level views of various universities, Legoland, Disneyland and Stonehenge.