Gadgets on the piste

Warning: The following is by no means an in-depth review or related to PC hardware. I used a recent ski trip as an opportunity to try out some of the latest hi-tech sports/skiing gear, and I wanted to share a cursory overview of my experience with some bonus photos. If you want to listen to this roundup (and avoid my atrocious writing), check out the latest episode of the TR Podcast.

When I was 11, the number-one item on my birthday wish list was a handheld GPS. This was back when geo-location was only available in the form of dash-mounted navigation units and handheld devices from Magellan and Garmin. The idea of being able to know my exact latitude and longitude while on family hikes, camping trips, and miscellaneous outdoor adventures resonated strongly with my inner geek. The marriage of technology and the great outdoors was, at the time, new and exciting.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to escape the concrete jungle of NYC and enjoy a short winter vacation at the Keystone Ski Resort in Colorado. In the 11 years since I began lusting after a GPS, the world of outdoor tech gear has changed considerably. I used my ski trip as an opportunity to see what the latest generation of products has to offer. On my trip, I traveled with review units of Monster’s iSport Intensity In-Ear Headphones, Aether’s Altitude Jacket with Apex Snow Pants, and Recon Instrument’s MOD Live HUD with UVEX Goggles.

Before starting, I should note that, if you ever get a chance to visit any of the ski resorts in Colorado, do it. My overall experience was nothing short of incredible, and I’m already planning to return next winter. The breathtaking Colorado Rockies, the nested mountain towns, the massive groomed ski slopes, and the unruly powder all made a big impact on me.

Monster iSport Intensity Earbuds

Price: $73.55

If you listen to the TR Podcast, you may know that I’m something of an earbud connoisseur. During my daily commute to Manhattan, I’ve developed a penchant for certain features: in-line music controls, noise isolation, durability, and comfort. Going from a subway commute to a ski slope, however, I found my preferences changed somewhat.

Monster’s iSport Intensity earbuds are designed to accommodate the specific requirements of action sports like running, skiing, and biking. They feature a ribbon cable construction (a common feature these days), an oversized in-line control panel usable with gloves, and a waterproof/sweat-proof design. (You can wash them in the sink. Seriously, I tested it.) Most importantly, these earbuds only partially block out surrounding noise. Attempting to ski, run, or bike while deaf to your surroundings isn’t very smart.

After my first run breaking in the iSports with Bangarang (don’t hate; it’s a great skiing song), I was seriously impressed. Obviously, when you’re zipping down a slope, adding fast-paced music enhances the experience. Beyond that augmentation, the iSports are easy to control with gloves and easy to fit into my ears (they have multiple tip sizes), and they let in enough sound that I didn’t have to worry about being clipped by an unseen skier. My only complaint is that, after a long afternoon of use, my ears started to hurt—mostly, I think, because of the prolonged pressure from my beanie against my earbud-equipped ears. That annoyance aside, and considering the asking price, these are a no-brainer.

Bottom line: Skiing is awesome. Skiing with your favorite music, and doing it safely with well-designed earbuds, is even more awesome. Thumbs up for the Monster iSports.

Aether Altitude Jacket with Apex Snow Pants

Price: $675 (Jacket)$375 (Pants)

Developed by Swiss fabric company Schoeller, C_Change smart fabric can adjust its level of heat retention and breathability dynamically. If you start to work up a sweat, the fabric adjusts to allow increased heat dissipation. If you’re cooling down on the chairlift back up to the top, the fabric membrane adjusts to retain heat and keep you warm. The Aether Altitude jacket I tested is made entirely of this savvy fabric. Aether also sent me a pair of their matching Apex Ski Pants to complement the jacket.

For the most part, the Altitude Jacket measured up to its promise of keeping me warm when needed and cool when preferred. During powder runs and corduroy wipeouts, the Apex Snow pants kept me warm, dry, and very happy. However, during my trip’s coldest moments (temperatures hovered around 20° with 30-MPH gusts one morning), I was disappointed to feel the bite of the wind more than I expected from a garment of this tier. That was despite wearing a fleece mid-layer and Under Armour cold gear as a base.

Other problems frustrated me, as well. The armpit vents (a standard ski jacket feature) don’t include mesh webbing to prevent snow from entering. The part of the jacket collar that touches your chin and mouth when completely zipped up isn’t padded very softly, either, and it starts to chafe as the day wears on. The overall cut of the jacket is slim-fitting, which I quite like—but parts of the jacket fit like a glove, while the snow skirt was entirely too tight, and I wasn’t able to snap it closed. Many ski jackets feature wrist/thumb loops that help keep snow out of your gloves, but the Altitude jacket does not.

Those annoyances may be small, but considering the Aether Altitude jacket is priced at a hefty $675, I found them hard to ignore. Overall, I was disappointed.

Bottom line: The Altitude Jacket is too smart for its own good. Technology-infused fabric doesn’t make up for bare-minimum features and primo price tag.

Recon Instruments MOD Live Heads Up Display

Price: $353 (not including goggles) – $549 (as tested with UVEX goggles)

A spiritual successor to my first handheld GPS, the Recon Instruments MOD Live HUD is an in-goggle GPS/accelerometer that provides real-time information via a small display visible at the lower-right corner of the user’s field of view. The device is controlled by a wrist-mounted remote, and it reports ground speed, altitude, jump distance, and airtime, among other data points. The MOD Live can also help you navigate slopes with built-in resort maps. Priced anywhere from $353-$599 (depending on the paired goggles), Recon’s offering is compatible with goggles from companies like Oakley and Scott. I borrowed a friend’s UVEX G.GL9 goggles, which retail about $550, for my testing.

The heads-up display isn’t quite what you’d expect. If you’re imagining a Call of Duty-style holographic data overlay, you’re off the mark. Rather, the display is designed to appear as if you’re looking at a 14" screen from five feet away. The HUD is actually quite usable in practice. When you’re on the slope, it’s small enough not to be distracting. However, it’s in just the right place for you to glance down and check your speed quickly. When back on the chairlift, you can give the HUD more attention and navigate its UI with the paired wrist remote.

I should note that there are a few other features I didn’t completely test. Recon offers iPhone and Android apps that let you interface with the HUD. This smartphone paring allows for in-HUD music control and SMS message reading. There’s also a buddy-tracking feature, if you’re lucky enough to have more than one gadget-savvy and/or rich friend.

At first, knowing your current ground speed is a unique addition to the skiing experience. It’s perhaps even a little dangerous, because the goggles remind you of your record speed, and I kept trying to beat that figure. (In case you’re wondering, my final record was 46 MPH. I was quickly bested by a snowboarding friend who tore up the slope at 56 MPH. He later hit his head on a tree branch and suffered a small concussion, though, so we’re even. But I digress.)

While using the HUD—tracking my speed, using the built-in map, and tweaking the customizable UI, which lets you adjust what information is visible—I kept wondering if this gadget, which I admittedly was trying for free, was really worth the asking price. Is this a must-have piece of gear or just a fun and pricey toy? My opinion wavered for the first two days, but my mind was made up the second I plugged the device into my computer.

In addition to displaying real-time information, the MOD Live keeps a log of recorded data. When you upload this data to the online Recon Engage portal, the day’s adventures are brought to life. Each run is shown with real-time speed and altitude information, and you can scroll along your course chronologically via a top-down map to see exactly where you hit your top speed, your highest jump distance, your longest air time, etc. Since Recon has a map of each ski resort, you’re even reminded the name of each slope. Cooler still, this data can be exported to Google Earth.

Bottom line: The MOD Live brings in-depth data to action sports. If you’re like me, that can be a very addictive concept. Now that my three-day trip is over, I’d be inclined to say $350-600 is still too much of a premium—but I’m already trying to see how I could afford the device for my next excursion to the Rockies. It’s that good.

P.S. Recon makes a very pared-down version of the MOD that retails for slightly less ($225, not including goggles).

Conclusions

I have no doubt that, without any of the aforementioned gadgets (particularly the HUD and the earbuds), I still would’ve had an incredible trip. Skiing in the Rockies is fun no matter how many tunes you can crank out or how many speed records you break. However, these devices made the experience even more enjoyable. In the case of the MOD Live, they may have helped create more vivid memories, as well.

Next year, I’ll try to get my hands on this puppy.

Comments closed
    • Nutmeg
    • 7 years ago

    Skiing at -30C doesn’t sound any fun. Alps FTW.

    • sarahNL93144
    • 7 years ago
    • sarahNL93144
    • 7 years ago
    • Bensam123
    • 7 years ago

    The skiing in CO is quite a bit different from the rest of the country. I would definitely advise people to get in shape before attempting anything in CO. CO mountains are actual mountains and require quite a bit of stamina and a decent amount of muscle mass to tackle. Compared to mountains in the rest of the country that are usually just large hills, it’s a big step up. A diamond on normal hills would be a square or even a circle on the Rockys.

    I was actually a bit disapointed and frustrated when I visited CO and discovered that I didn’t have enough stamina to last a long time or give a showing performance while there. It’s a bit of a eye opener and a humbling experience. But the scenery is marvelous as is the experience. It’s a great time even if you can’t take full advantage of the hills there.

    If you’re in CO, visit Steamboat. The hills there are great and they have live hot springs. So after you’re done skiing you visit some of the live hot springs to relax and let your muscles unwind, it’s really a very soothing experience.

    As far as some of these products go, they’re still well outside my price range. I think the HUD is a great idea, but for a custom device it’s still lacking. Skiing in general can be very pricey if you aren’t careful. I hope some of this functionality will move into smartphones (which I’m sure it will) and when Google glass comes around this will be another one of it’s applications.

      • jdrake
      • 7 years ago

      Completely agree with you. CO is very challenging, particularly if you’re like me and you haven’t skied in a while. I was definitely sore at the end of each day. Thankfully though, I’m an avid cross-fitter, so after a night’s rest, I was very refreshed and able to tackle another day.

        • Bensam123
        • 7 years ago

        lol, I was in a similar boat only I don’t normally work out so it was quite a bit worse for me.

    • Duck
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]temperatures hovered around 20°[/quote<] That's warmer than it is in my house ¬.¬

      • Zarf
      • 7 years ago

      That’s 20 F, which is close to -7 C. If your house is -7 C, you should probably not own any fish. Because they’ll die.

    • not@home
    • 7 years ago

    I love having a GPS with me on the slopes. My max speed ever was 72 MPH. That was at Loveland Pass in CO. It is one of only 4 places in CO where you can back country ski/snowboard. It is pretty cool. You park at the top of the pass, hike either left or right, snowboard down to the road and hitchhike back to the top of the pass. Every run is all powder and there are no other people. It is right next to A-basin too, which is my favorite ski hill in CO.

      • jdrake
      • 7 years ago

      I actually hiked some of Loveland Pass while I was out there… it’s only a few miles from Keystone, as you know. Didn’t ski it this time, but will have to on my next trip!

      Also, 72mph, on powder, is insane!

    • Squeazle
    • 7 years ago

    Coat sounds cool, sad that it doesn’t keep the wind out. You were really wearing wind welcoming clothes aside from that though, so I have to give your prep a 6/10.

    • tootercomputer
    • 7 years ago

    I’ve never liked this guy’s blogs in the past, and this one, with pictures of him in his high-tech garb, did not grab me either, even after skimming through the blog. All seems pretty self-absorbed.

      • ludi
      • 7 years ago

      Sounds like you got out of it what you put into it.

      • Kharnellius
      • 7 years ago

      Are you a gluten for pain? :confused:

        • MadManOriginal
        • 7 years ago

        Maybe he has Celiac disease.

        • Scrotos
        • 7 years ago

        Glutton. Gluten is the stuff in grains that some people don’t like eatin’.

        Not being all grammar-nazi on you, just an FYI in case you use that word elsewhere and people give you grief over it.

    • grantmeaname
    • 7 years ago

    What did you think of the pants? Am I missing that section?

      • jdrake
      • 7 years ago

      I only mentioned them briefly. They were fantastic. Kept me warm and dry with Under Armor Cold Gear underneath (purchased separately). The pants are not made of C_Change fabric, though, so I didn’t focus on them as a stand-alone review.

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 7 years ago

    Now we know who Intel was trying to sell CPU’s to when they offered that “chance” to win a snowboard.

    • sweatshopking
    • 7 years ago

    who said skiing was a sport for rich white folks?!?!? they don’t know what they were talking about!

    1000$ before lift pass, airfare to get there, and food and lodging? that sounds like something anyone can do!

    Glad you enjoyed it, Jordan, i really am. It just seems like an astronomical amount of money for me to spend. i’ve been skiing (school field trip up mt. washington on van isle) and enjoyed it, but wow. that’s a pricey sport!

      • Sargent Duck
      • 7 years ago

      A nightly season ski pass at my local mountain is $99.

      I got out 35 times, so that only costs me $2.8 a trip…

        • sweatshopking
        • 7 years ago

        that’s reasonable for sure. makes way more sense. the upfront costs of skis are still there, but you can probably find some used ones on kijiji. i still can’t imagine spending 550$ on goggles, no matter how fancy.

          • Sargent Duck
          • 7 years ago

          Agreed.

          A friend of mine bought entry level skis/boots/poles last year for around $550 give or take. Use them for 7 years (that’s how long the bindings are warranted for) and it’s only $80/year.

          But yeah, it is a high upfront cost for sure.

          Then again, I went skydiving a few years back and that was $280 for less than 10min of actual activity. So when compared to that skiing is a bargain!

          But I will whole heartedly admit it’s expensive.

        • Bensam123
        • 7 years ago

        Must’ve been a pretty small hill to get a $100 season pass. Some hills aren’t even worth skiing IMO once they reach a certain size, but I suppose to each their own.

      • anotherengineer
      • 7 years ago

      Nothings cheap, especially if you have no income or low income, even medium to high income, trips can still add up.

      Should have seen what it cost us (the whole family) to fly to Hawaii during the Christmas rush for the father-in-laws wedding at Turtle Bay Resort.

      It would make ski-trip within the country seem like peanuts. Even with our good incomes, the mortgage paid for that trip.

        • sweatshopking
        • 7 years ago

        you should have told him what marriage was like!

      • axeman
      • 7 years ago

      I’m into snowmobiling. Skiing is cheap by comparison. O_o

        • jdrake
        • 7 years ago

        The friend from whom I borrowed the HUD is a full time base-jumper/wingsuit pilot… you want to talk about expensive? 😀

          • sweatshopking
          • 7 years ago

          yeah, that’s another insanely expensive sport. i wish we had a nice communist government that could nationalize all these things and make them free for all the citizens.

      • druidcent
      • 7 years ago

      As far as I can tell, skiing is a sport for locals… If you only make one trip a year, it’s crazy expensive… but several of my friends have season passes (Vail Group in Tahoe) and end up going 10-20 times a year (one friend who lives in Reno made it out a 28 times last year :P).. Also if it’s a day trip, then you only pay for the gas..

      My brother in CO, got a season pass for a local ski slope (not a resort), for about $100… and went just about every weekend there was snow..

      As with any sport or hobby, you can spend as much or as little as you like..

      Edit: Oh yeah.. and that HUD is now on my wish list 🙂

        • Bensam123
        • 7 years ago

        $100 for a season pass in colorado seems highly unlikely. That’s the price of a day ticket at Steamboat.

          • Scrotos
          • 7 years ago

          Some of the prices for CO passes:

          [url<]http://denver.about.com/od/sportsrecreation/a/2012-13-Colorado-Ski-Passes.htm[/url<] But they run specials on various ones and I'm sure you can get a ski pass for one specific resort for cheaper, depending on the time and all that jazz. It's too bad they got rid of this: [url<]http://www.skitrain.com/[/url<]

        • jdrake
        • 7 years ago

        One of my buddies on the trip works at Keystone. We got lift-tickets for $50/day. Great discount.

      • Bensam123
      • 7 years ago

      SSK it depends where you ski. Some of the touristy places are really expensive. CO in general is more expensive for skiing and living because you’re in the mountains.

      Local skiing on a weekday special for instance is $17 for me with free rentals (granite peak WI). I don’t need rentals, but when I take along someone else it helps.

      You just have to find a place that suits your budget, they do exist and skiing isn’t just for rich folks. I’m no where near that paygrade. And if you really do ski all that often, just buy a ski pass. You get your moneys worth if you’re a regular skier no matter where you go.

      Going off of that though, it’s definitely easy to find gold diggers lining the walls at ski resorts. That’s actually something I found quite interesting when I was visiting CO. It’s pretty popular to pick and be picked up at ski hills if you’re looking for the upper echelons.

    • FireGryphon
    • 7 years ago

    Excellent review, fun to read.

    I’m not sure how I feel about uploading my skiing data to an online portal. What is Recon doing with all of the personal trip info that its users upload? I would like a standalone program that installs on my PC with which I can manipulate the data.

    The jacket is a let-down. Light but warm jackets make cold weather activities much more fun. Shame the Aether doesn’t cut it.

    • Meadows
    • 7 years ago

    How many energy drinks did you slam?

      • Meadows
      • 7 years ago

      Also, Jordan, if that’s you in the pictures, then rest easy knowing that you’re quite handsome.

        • sweatshopking
        • 7 years ago

        i’m not going to say a word.

          • Meadows
          • 7 years ago

          Nonsense, sweatshopking! You just did.

            • sweatshopking
            • 7 years ago

            YOU DON’T SAY?!!??!?!

            • Bensam123
            • 7 years ago

            He loves it, that’s why he had to point it out.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 7 years ago

      Enough to fill his black hole.

        • Meadows
        • 7 years ago

        With creamy POW?

          • MadManOriginal
          • 7 years ago

          Yoghurt.

          • Black Applesauce
          • 7 years ago

          That joke will live forever in tech report history.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 7 years ago

    [quote<]When you upload this data to the [u<]online[/u<] Recon Engage portal[/quote<] No local program for a PC? Fail.

      • jdrake
      • 7 years ago

      Closest thing would be exporting the data to Google Maps, I guess. But yeah, local program would be nice.

    • Sargent Duck
    • 7 years ago

    Good review, I really liked it!

    Wow, that is a lot for a jacket and ski pants. My current (cold weather) set-up is (legs: heavy sweat pants, jogging pants, ski pants & torso: base layer, t-shirt, sweat shirt, felt liner, winter jacket) hasn’t yet failed me in -30C (-22F with the wind chill). As I have zippers on both my felt and outer, I adjust my temperature that way. As cool as that jacket sounds, my entire set-up costs less than the ski-pants. That, and I don’t like “slim” look. But still super cool technology. Thanks for letting me know about that!

    Those goggles look really nifty. I was at a new ski resort this past winter and kept having to pull out the trail map (which was big) at the top of the hill to figure out which side to go down (and it was windy at the top, so it was hard keeping the map flat. Oh, and everything was French . Which I can’t read). That would have been very helpful. And the fact it keeps record of your speed and vertical distance? Now that’s cool. But it would be super dangerous for me as I’d always be trying to beat that and probably end up wrapping myself around a tree.

    But as cool as all that stuff is, I’d much rather invest all that money into my equipment. Last summer I bought Atomic Crimson Ti skis and Atomic Hawk boots and what a difference over my old skis. I was able to go faster, turn harder, turn sharper, go through powder like nothing and finally tackle runs that gave my old skis nightmares.

    Moral of the story? Get yourself that best equipment possible then buy the toys : )

      • jdrake
      • 7 years ago

      Thanks! Glad you liked it.

      I rent my equipment simply because I don’t ski often enough to own – but I agree with you about the merits of buying quality sports equipment before the toys.

        • Sargent Duck
        • 7 years ago

        I wonder how those goggles work during -30C (-22F) temps? That’d be the real test. But anytime you need a second opinion on some of that stuff, feel free to send it up here to Canada : ) My address is as follows…

          • anotherengineer
          • 7 years ago

          -30C, pffff, we had -42C here this year in Timmins, I believe the windchill factor was -56C?

          Could test out the impact resistance at that temp 😉

        • Squeazle
        • 7 years ago

        If you grab used race skis, or powder skis off of the rich guys that get a new pair every year, they pay for themselves within a couple years of non-renting. Sub $300 usually. Which is clearly less than coat money.

          • Sargent Duck
          • 7 years ago

          I bought new high-end skis and boots this past summer (nearly 40% off) and I got out enough to pay for them this year alone. I have some friends who 2 summers ago bought entry level skis and boots. At their current rate of getting out, they’ll have paid them off sometime by 2023…

      • continuum
      • 7 years ago

      Yep, this… quality equipment before toys, every time, all the time.

      And holy cow, $1k on jacket and pants yet you haven’t bought equipment yet? I hope you at least own your own boots? Cripes, I hope you got them on sale or something. I have some pretty decent gear myself, but that’s mostly ’cause I was able to snag ’em for 50% off on sale… ^_^

        • MadManOriginal
        • 7 years ago

        I think you’re talking about Jordan’s reviewed items…he wrote ‘review units’ so I think they were loaned to him for review and he didn’t actually buy them.

          • jdrake
          • 7 years ago

          Correct. Review units. Did not purchase. Well, the goggles were borrowed from a friend, but it’s the same concept – I didn’t buy them.

            • continuum
            • 7 years ago

            Cripes, in that case, I want some review units! :-p

    • Sargent Duck
    • 7 years ago

    Did you have a chance to check out the Intel branded snowboard?

    • shivm
    • 7 years ago

    Hey! I am a -5D MYOPIC. How can I read the HUD.

      • Anonymous Hamster
      • 7 years ago

      I wear ski goggles over my regular glasses.

      • Bensam123
      • 7 years ago

      Get goggles that fit over glasses as Ham pointed out, they make them.

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