WARNING: Mountains are dangerous places. Always ski within your abilities, assess slopes and conditions yourself.

Creating a 3D-printed mountain map

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I decided I wanted to create a 3D-printed model of a ski area close to my heart – Courchevel in France’s 3 Vallees. It needed a bit of digital preparation work but the journey and the end result brought me joy and kept me out of trouble.

So to start, you need access to a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) dataset. The easiest way to get hold of this is the ASTER GDEM dataset, available through NASA’s Earthdata portal. Simply search for ‘dem’ and choose the ASTER GDEM dataset. You can then use the polygon tools on the right side of the map to select the area you need- this then displays the relevant ‘granules’ of data available for download. You’ll need to register for an account, but the data’s free.

The next step is to concatenate this granule to the area you want to feature in your model, and create a .STL file to use as a 3D model. You’ll need Blender and blenderGIS and a little 3D modelling know-how (or ability to wing it like myself). Import your GeoTIFF files you’ve downloaded from EarthData, manipulate them into a model and export your STL

If you’re struggling with the data side of things, and have £5 to blast on it, you could Advance To Go using The Terrainator. This service lets you choose an area on a browsable map, then easily generate an STL file from your selection.

Okay, now that we have a complete STL file you should be ready to print. This isn’t the time or place for a tutorial on 3D printing, hopefully you’ll be comfortable with importing an STL file into your favourite 3D printing software for sizing, slicing and exporting the gcode. Wham that over to your printer and watch the magic unfold.

Mine’s still sitting around waiting for a rainy day when I have time to finish it with a paint job – both to give it a more mountainous colour scheme and hopefully to add pistes and lifts if my hand’s steady enough…

A failed initial attempt on the right…

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