CNET doesn't usually write up ski equipment, but with more ski gear going high-tech -- and mingling with the high-tech gear we carry day to day -- we thought we'd have some fun rounding up some of the more innovative ski gear available today.
Best high-tech ski gear
CNET doesn't usually write up ski equipment, but with more ski gear going high-tech -- and mingling with the high-tech gear we carry day to day -- we thought we'd have some fun rounding up some of the more innovative ski gear as we head into the peak ski season.
While most of the gear in the roundup is battery-powered, not everything has a power component to it. In some cases, we've included items that have high-tech materials or cutting-edge designs.
We'll be updating this feature with new products as we hear about them and test them out. If there's something you think should be included, feel free to suggest it in the comments section and we'll check it out and potentially add it to the list in the future.
Tired of taking your gloves off to take calls or control your music while skiing? Well, BearTek's new Bluetooth gloves turn your hand into a remote control. That's right, these guys have a wireless Sync Module that tucks into a pocket at the top of the gloves (it charges via Micro-USB and gets up to 80 hours of battery life). Pair the gloves with your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone and then tap the on button (on the left thumb of the glove) and you're ready to start performing some basic commands by tapping the touch points on the fingers of the glove to an activation touch point on the thumb.
You answer or decline calls or pause/play music with the top touch sensor on the index finger while the touch sensors on the middle finger allow you to advance tracks forward and skip back. I tested it out with some iTunes tracks (and iTunes radio, which only lets you skip tracks forward), as well as Spotify. It worked better than I thought it would; you just have to make sure to tap the power button if you don't control anything for a few seconds because the gloves automatically lock to prevent accidental activity.
BearTek has started selling a separate wireless module for controlling certain GoPro cameras, but they're in limited supply and I wasn't able to test it out yet.
Beyond the GoPro controller, it seems clear the company has plans to add functionality to the gloves. Some of the touch sensors haven't been assigned commands yet, so there's some room for improvement. For instance, it'd be nice to be able to access Siri on iOS devices, or Google Now on Android devices so you could make calls with voice commands.
The gloves also come in a motorcycle version and an "all-purpose" version. The ski version I tried did seem pretty warm and well-made.
Denny Hanson, the guy behind the Apex ski boot system, has always looked at things a little differently when it comes to ski boots. He and his brother Chris invented rear-entry boots back in in '70s (remember Hanson ski boots?) and now his Apex ski boot line uses a "Modular Chassis" design, which essentially combines a "soft" snowboarding boot with a ski boot shell.
The marketing pitch is that the boots are more comfortable, warmer, and are better suited to get better performance out of today's shaped skis. Oh, and you can pop the inner boot out of the shell and walk around in them afterward.
I will say they take some getting used to and they're not for everyone, especially at their high price. But after you figure out how to get in and out of them (it's a bit of a process compared with stepping in and out of a typical boot), you feel the benefits of their design. They're comfortable and comparatively warm and the Boa Closure System allows you to easily make small adjustments to the fit through the course of the day.
I didn't ski on challenging enough terrain (yet) to make a final judgment about their performance, but the high-end model, the MC-2 Carbon seems stiff enough for better skiers to use and the boots have apparently improved with each generation (Apex was founded in 2008).
Ideally, of course, Apex would figure out how to bring the cost for its boots down and make them more mainstream. But for now anyway, an Apex boot is a little like Tesla -- an innovative piece of gear that'll cost you a bit extra to own.
GoPro, the current action-cam leader, makes a number of different models that look very similar (and come with a couple of different helmet mounts), but don't necessarily shoot the same quality video or have all the same bells and whistles. The Hero3+ Black Edition is GoPro's current top-of-the-line model that features the best video quality. Click the link below to get to our full review.
GoPro cameras come with helmet-mount accessories, but it's also nice to have a helmet like the Giro Edit that has a GoPro mount integrated right into it. The camera attaches right to the front of the helmet, instead of the top, which allows you to avoid the Teletubby look. Of course, if you have the camera on the front of your helmet, you can't rest your goggles there.
There are no batteries or Bluetooth in Helly Hansen's flagship Thrym jacket. But it does have some high-tech features, and not just plenty of interior pockets for electronics. The idea here is to create a jacket that's thinner and lighter but also just as warm as thicker jackets (and also one that doesn't get you too hot when you're skiing hard or the sun breaks out in the middle of the day).
To that end, the Thrym features Helly Tech Professional waterproof breathable fabric and an airflow venting system (Helly refers to the whole package as H2FLOW, which it says is 20 percent more efficient at regulating body temperature than standard ski jackets).
Inside you'll find a set of down-insulated pods that provide "strategic warmth" and are angled upward to "funnel warm air up the spinal cavity and out the jacket's back collar."
The jacket also has a built-in RECCO Rescue System, which would help rescuers find you if you end up getting caught in an avalanche.
Gloves with built-in heating mechanisms have been around for a while, but they're starting to get more sophisticated. The Hestra Heater is the next-gen version of the company's ski glove that has heated coils around the fingers, which, in theory, keep your hands warm on very cold days (there are three temperature settings depending on just how cold it is).
Black Diamond makes a similar $400 model called the Cayenne (it comes in a mitt as well) that also features heated coils. Alas, both companies say the gloves are in such demand they don't have samples they can send out for testing. I tried the Hestras in a store (and outside for a few minutes) -- and they got warm all right -- but I can't you how they'd do on a subzero day in Vermont, or elsewhere for that matter.
To keep my kids' feet warm while skiing, I go the low-tech route and buy a box of toe-warmers on Amazon and stick them to their feet before they step into their boots. But if you want to get more serious about keeping your feet warm in your boots, there's the battery-powered variety from Hotronic, which features a heated footbed.
Apparently it works well for most people (but not everybody). Just keep in mind that these do require a custom install, so count on paying some extra money for that. Most stores won't charge all that much (the store I was in charged $25), but you will pay retail price for the product.
For those who wear glasses while they're skiing, you really need an over-the-glass (OTG) goggle. There are many OTG goggles out there, but few that feature a built-in fan to help keep your glasses (and goggles) from fogging up.
Smith Optics IOX Elite Turbo fan is Smith's top-of-the-line OTG goggle. Aside from the quality of the lenses (you get two with the goggle), the big deal here is how quiet the fan is. With most goggles that have integrated fans, including Smith's own, you can can end up hearing the whir of the fan, which can drive some people batty. But I tested this model and it was really quiet. I could hear it in the silence of my office, but when I took it out on the slopes with a slight wind blowing, it was practically silent.
Of course, a lot of people don't want to spend this kind of dough on a pair of goggles (and in the wrong circumstances you still may get some fogging). But this is as good as you get when it comes to OTG goggles.
You'd think that more companies would have made Bluetooth headphones that slip inside your helmet, but Outdoor Technology is one of the few that does (Skullcandy has something for helmets, but I prefer the Chips).
How it works is you charge up the Chips and slide them into the earflaps on your helmet (they should work with most helmets). You want to make sure that no excess padding in your helmet is covering the Chips or else they'll get muffled and you'll lose some volume; you want them as close to your ears as possible.
The Chips have a single button on each earpiece, which you can access through the earflap. In other words, you can answer or end a call by touching the earflap firmly, or pause and play music. What's also nice is that you can access Siri (without taking out your phone) and use voice commands to call people or launch a playlist of music.
I thought the sound quality was decent for Bluetooth but not great. You can find headphones that sound better for $130, but it's really nice to be able to stick your helmet on and have the headphones built-in with no wires to worry about. Battery life is rated at 10 hours and the Chips are sweat- and water-resistant but not waterproof.
The Outdoor Technology Chips charge via USB and can also be listened to as a corded headphone (cable and carrying pouch included). Alas, they charge via the headphone jack (instead of a standard Micro-USB port). That's fine, but you won't want to lose the charging cable.
Swedish company POC now offers its Receptor Bug helmet with built-in Beats by Dre headphones. This is a wired headphone solution, but you simply snake the included cord (it's the standard Beats detachable cord with an integrated remote/microphone) under your jacket to your audio device of choice, most likely your smartphone.
I compared this to the Outdoor Technology Chips wireless Bluetooth headphone accessory for helmets and the sound you get from the wired Beats is definitely a step up, with bigger bass and louder sound output. You will get some sound leakage from the headphones, so people sitting next to you on the lift will hear your music if you're playing at moderate volumes.
Next ski season, POC will bring Beats by Dre audio to its Fornix helmet ($240). That helmet will hit stores this fall and carry a retail price of $240. The Receptor Bug Communication comes in white and black; the Fornix Bug Communication will also come in a red version.
Think of the Liquid Image Model 339 Apex HD + WiFi as as goggle with a GoPro action camera built into it. There are no helmet mounts or extra pieces to deal with; you simply have everything in the goggle.
Like with the GoPros that feature integrated Wi-Fi, the Apex HD + WiFi connects to your smartphone with a free app, which enables you to use your phone's screen as a viewfinder. I had a little trouble connecting the goggles to the app (I found the GoPro worked more consistently), but in my limited testing I thought the video from this camera was solid and I liked the POV of having the camera in the middle of my forehead (you can adjust the angle of the camera, though it requires a small included tool to do so).
With this newer model, Liquid Image says the goggles are better weighted and while they're certainly a little top heavy, it's not bad. I still have some more testing to do before I give a final verdict on this one (I will post a full review in the future), but it's certainly worth checking out if you're looking for a ski goggle with an integrated video camera; Liquid Image is one of the pioneers in the camera goggles niche.
This one's for true gadget-heads who also happen to ski.
A few different goggles, including ones from Oakley and Smith, have an integrated Recon Instruments Snow2 heads-up display (HUD). It's a little like Google Glass but for ski goggles and with a ski-centric feature set. That includes a compass, speedometer, and maps of various ski resorts (you can see where you are on the mountain).
The Snow2 is powered by a 1GHz dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 chip with PowerVR SGX540 GPU with 1GB of RAM of 2GB of built-in flash memory. It has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and connects to an app on your smartphone. (For a complete lists of specs go here)
There's a 3D accelerometer, 3D gyroscope, and 3D magnetometer, along with altimeter and barometer applications. A handful of integrated apps allow to see how fast you're going, plot where you are on the mountain (the Recon loads maps of resorts), and view text messages and incoming caller ID info. A wearable remote allows you to toggle through menus and apps and control music playback on your phone, among other things.
The I/O Recon is overkill for the average skier, but for gearheads it's a lot of fun to use -- and Recon Instruments continues to add new features and updates to the Snow2's firmware. Just beware that battery life can run a little short (it's rated at up to 6 hours), so you may want to bring an external battery with you so you can charge the goggle up at lunchtime (it charges via Micro-USB).
A view of the Recon Hud. The display is mounted on the inside of the goggles in the right corner. You glance down at the display while you're skiing to see how fast you're going (there's a speedometer) and how many vertical feet you've skied. A notification system will show incoming text messages and let you know who's calling. You can also control your music playback.
The Drift Ghost-S is a good alternative to GoPro action cams. What's nice about it is that it's waterproof out of the box (you don't have to put it in a waterproof case like you do with the GoPro), and the built-in LCD is larger and more user-friendly than the tiny one found on the GoPro.
If you don't want to worry about dropping your phone in the snow, your best bet is to get a waterproof case for it.
LifeProof has released its popular waterproof case for the iPhone 5S, tweaking the case's design so you can use the fingerprint sensor. In the new version, a thin, translucent membrane covers the home button, keeping water and grime out while allowing your fingerprint to still be read (in my tests I indeed managed to unlock the phone with my finger).
All iPhone 5/5S users can choose between the Fre (pictured here -- $79.99) and the Nuud ($89.99), which leaves the screen exposed but still keeps water and dust out of your phone. The Nuud has a translucent back while the Fre has a window in back to show off the Apple logo.
Both the Fre and Nuud are also available for the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4.
The iPhone 5 and 5S shoot good video, but the iPhone doesn't have a wide-angle lens like the GoPro and other action cams. That's where an accessory company like Hitcase comes in. It, along with a few other companies, make waterproof cases that have built-in wide angle lenses that turn your iPhone into an action camera (the Hitcase lens is all glass and has 170-degree angle of view).
The Hitcase Pro for the iPhone 5/5S has a railslide mount system that's GoPro mount-compatible. However, I tested it with the optional $50 chest mount (the ChestR). What's nice is that the swivel mechanism on the mount allows you to tilt your phone down in front of you to use the touch screen. You can then tilt it back when you're ready to start shooting again. It also detaches from the mount pretty easily, allowing you to talk into your phone as you normally would.
Note: Hitcase also sells a case that's compatible with the iPhone 4/4S and offers a free iOS app called Vidometer that overlays your speed, altitude, shock, and G-Force on top of your videos.
On the outside at least, there doesn't to be anything all that special about Smith's Vantage helmet. But on the inside, instead of a hard foam you'll find Koroyd inserts. The high-tech material is made of lightweight, eco-friendly polymer extruded tubes thermally welded together to form a strong layer of protection that also allows for good air flow (Smith's marketing name for it is "Aerocore construction"). From the top it looks like a honeycomb with circular, not hexagonal, shaped cylinders.
Beyond the fancy padding, the Vantage has the new BOA FS360 fit system (with a 360-degree halo design), which helps you get a snug, "custom" fit. I skied with the helmet for a day and found it very comfortable. Alas, I tested the all-black model, which isn't so good for photography, but the Vantage does come in other, more exciting colors.
Having your phone die on the mountain isn't a good thing, which is why I decided to throw a waterproof external battery pack into this roundup. New Trent just came out with the PowerPak Ultra, which is built around a whopping 14,000mAh battery. It can charge both tablets and phones. It's not small, but it'll provide enough juice for a family's worth of phones.
I hesitated to put a ski in this roundup because there are a lot of skis that feature high-tech designs and high-tech materials. But I'll briefly mention Wagner, which creates custom skis according to your "Skier DNA." You answer a bunch of questions about the type of skier you are and the type of ski you want, and all that info gets fed into a program with some 250,000 lines of code, according to the company. Then, a few weeks later, you end up with your perfect pair of skis. At least that's the way it's supposed to work.
It's a cool concept (all the pros have custom skis, so why not you?). But as you might expect, Wagners aren't inexpensive. They start at around $2,000 and go up from there, depending on the type of finish you pick, and you can even provide your own artwork if you choose. Oh, and don't forget the bindings.
Just what every snowboarder needs, a boot with a Nike swoosh that lights up.
Behold the LunarEndor QS. Come dusk, you can power on the swoosh's 30 LEDs with an on/off switch located in the boot's cuff (the LEDs are powered by an embedded lithium ion battery that's rechargeable).
Beyond its electronic flair, Nike touts the line-topping LunarEndor as being "one of the most technologically advanced snowboard boots available." You get Nike's Lunarlon foam on the inside (helps better absorb impact on landings, among other things), a customizable flex line system that gives you three levels of stiffness, a 3-D molded upper, Nike Flywire inner-lacing system, and the LunarEndor's liner and shell are reinforced with Strobel technology that, according to Nike, attracts and stores heat.
Note: Nike says these boots are in limited supply, and as of this writing they're listed as out of stock. But it looks like you can get them on eBay for double the price.
Suunto Ambit2 Sapphire GPS watch with heart-rate monitor
The second generation of Suunto's Ambit GPS watch comes in 12 different versions, with the Ambit2 Sapphire Heart Rate Monitor pegged as the top-of-the-line model (you can get this watch without the heart-rate monitor as well). It starts around $350 and goes up to $650. The less expensive 2S version doesn't have as good battery life, which is obviously important in a GPS watch.
The Ambit2 is marketed more toward serious runners and triathletes (it's compatible with hundreds of apps), but it's got an integrated barometric altimeter and weather alerts feature and there are several ski specific apps that chart, for example, how many runs you do, total vertical feet, and top speed.
Other competitors in this category include the Garman Fenix. We haven't tested either the Garmin or the Suunto, but hope to get our hands on them in the near future.