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.
Some ski goggle uses little fans to help circulate the air inside your goggles and keep them from fogging up. But that doesn't always work. Enter Abom, which works more like the defroster in the rear-window of your car.
The goggle has an invisible heat-conductive film between a two-part lens. Touch a button and rechargeable battery sends a current through the film to heat the lens and keep it from fogging up. Abom claims, "It's the most powerful, comfortable, effective technology ever put in a goggle."
The Carl Zeiss lens comes in four colors options for different weather conditions (the versatile gray lens is in our sample unit) and the goggle itself also is available in different accent colors.
Battery life is rated at around 7 hours in "active mode." But there's also a boost mode that just gives you a quick anti-fogging for 10 minutes and then the battery shuts down until you want to activate the current again.
This is a brand-new goggle for 2016 and units are just starting to ship this winter.
GoPro cameras come with helmet-mount accessories, but it's also nice to have a helmet like the Giro Range that has a GoPro mount integrated right into it (GoPro Hero4 Session attached to in the picture is not included). 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.
Giro also makes the step-down Edit helmet that also includes a Go Pro mount. It retails for $180.
In 2015 GoPro concentrated on created more affordable products, including its cube-shaped Hero4 Session action cam, so nothing's really changed at the higher end, where you'll still find the Hero4 models.
The $500 Hero4 Black and its 4K resolution remains the company's top-of-the-line action cam, but the GoPro Hero4 Silver, which lists for $400 and includes a touchscreen, offers excellent video quality and should be more than adequate for most people.
Gloves with built-in heating mechanisms have been around for a while, but they're starting to get more sophisticated. The Seirus Inferno is one of the more comfortable ones I've tried, with three temperature settings depending on just how cold it is. Battery life varies depending on which setting you choose. At the highest setting, which is what you'll want for very cold days, you only get two hours of battery life.
The gloves worked well for me in 10-degree weather, but they don't work universally well for everyone (on a cold day in Vermont, I suggest wearing glove liners + mittens and using low-tech hand warmers).
That caveat aside, the gloves are well made and toggling between the various settings is easy.
On the outside at least, there doesn't appear 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 from the top looks like a honeycomb with circular, not hexagonal, shaped cylinders. 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 has added other materials and design elements to the helmet and is marketing the whole protection package as "Aerocore construction").
Beyond the fancy padding, the Vantage has the BOA FS360 fit system (with a 360-degree halo design), which helps you get a snug, "custom" fit. I skied with the helmet for several days and found it very comfortable.
For 2016, Smith has made some small tweaks to the design and added new colors. Certain colors come in a MIPS version, which offers increased protection. In a MIPS Brain Protection System, the shell and liner are separated by a low friction layer that "allows the helmet to slide relative to the head."
There are no batteries or Bluetooth in Helly Hansen's flagship Pete 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).
The "biker-inspired" Pete features the latest version of Helly Tech Professional waterproof breathable, 2-way stretch fabric and an airflow system with laser-cut chest and back air vents (Helly refers to the whole package as H2FLOW, which it says is more efficient at regulating body temperature than standard ski jackets).
There's a layer of Primaloft Gold down blend in the body and PrimaLoft Silver insulation Hi-Loft in the arms.
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.
It comes in two colors, Black (pictured) or stormy green.
As far as GoPro alternatives go, we're a fan of the Sony Action Cam Mini -- and it's come down in price. It's smaller, lighter and less expensive than the GoPro 4 Silver and offers excellent image quality. It also has a splashproof body, so you don't have to put in a case to film your skiing exploits (or others' exploits).
Tired of taking your gloves off to take calls or control your music while skiing? Well, BearTek's Bluetooth Snowsport 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 sells a separate wireless module for controlling certain GoPro cameras, but it's in limited supply and hard to get (I wasn't able to test it out).
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.
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.
The HLMT 300 VP is Uvex's newest visor-style helmet. You can easily move the visor up so it's completely away from your face, then slide it down when you need it. The included visor lens uses photochromic VarioPola technology to adapt automatically to the weather conditions to give you better contrast. Additional visors are available and some retailers include a second orange visor with the helmet.
It's also worth noting that visor doesn't fog up thanks to the open design and good ventilation (it's a good helmet for people who wear glasses). However, blowing snow can get into your eyes.
Last year I tried Swedish company POC's Receptor Bug helmet with built-in Beats by Dre headphones.
New for this year POC has integrated the same Beats headphones into its slightly higher priced Fornix helmet.
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. The Fornix Communication comes in red, black,and white.
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 Wireless 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 Wireless 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.
Outdoor Technology also sells a wired version of the Chips that cost significantly less.
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.
There are a lot of really good (and expensive) technical ski ski pants out there, but one of the most comfortable, best fitting ones is Helly Hansen's Cross Pant. It comes in black or the rock color you see here and has a "moto" inspired slim look with PrimaLoft Gold Insulation and a built-in RECCO Rescue System, which would help rescuers find you if you end up getting caught in an avalanche.system.
I tried Chaval's Response-XRT heated gloves and thought they performed well, though the gloves weren't quite as comfortable as the Seirus gloves I tried.
Seirus has three levels of heat you can toggle between, but Chaval touts its Chaval alphaHEAT 2.0 technology, which, "Thinks for you, automatically adjusting through infinite levels of heat to keep your hands perfectly warm."
Like other heated gloves, Chaval's are expensive. They'll run you $390.
It's also supposed to improve battery life and Chaval says it's gloves do better warming your hands in sub-zero temperatures. Alas, I only tried them in about 5-degree cold (East Coast skiing), but they did keep my hands warm for an hour straight before I had to come in because my feet were cold. Overall battery life is similar to that of other heated gloves -- between 4 and 6 hours.
MyCharge's rugged, military-grade All Terrain external battery chargers come in a few different capacities and start at around $30. With a water-proof design, the line is pretty ideal for skiers, although you have to bring your own charging cables.
The model pictured is the All Terrain+, which is on sale for $30, and has a 6000mAh capacity (it can charge an iPhone about 3 times) and has a 2.4A output for charging tablets.
This one's for true gadget-heads who also happen to ski.
A few different goggles, including ones from Oakley (Airwave 1.5) 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. (Yes, it can control music services such as Spotify and Rdio).
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 update the Snow2's firmware and add new features, such as Oakley's new Airwave GoPro Connect app, which works with any Snow2-equipped goggle and allows you to control GoPro HERO4 cameras remotely--and to access a real-time viewfinder in your goggles.
Last year Recon released a new version of its OS (OS4) that improves both the interface and performance of the Snow2 (if you own a Snow2-equipped goggle, you can download the update from Recon's website here).
The update allows for more reliable smartphone pairing and most importantly, 30 percent better battery life, which was a little short at around 6 hours (you now get "all-day" battery life).
To be safe, you can always bring an external battery with you so you can charge the goggle up a bit 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.
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 will soon release its popular waterproof case for the iPhone 6/6S ($79.99). Like with earlier versions, a thin, translucent membrane covers the home button, keeping water and grime out while allowing your fingerprint to still be read.
The Lifeproof Nuud case leaves the screen exposed but still keeps water and dust out of your phone.
The Fre is available for the iPhone 6/6S and 6 Plus/6S Plus as well as certain Samsung phones.
UCLEAR HBC120 Plus Dual Sports Helmet Communicator Bluetooth Headset
Some people want to talk to the people they're skiing with as they ski. For that you need an intercom system, which is what the Bluetooth-equipped UCLEAR HBC120 Plus is: it offers person-to-person intercom and puts boomless, hands-free communication into your ski and snowboard helmets.
The company's patented "beam forming technology isolates your voice and eliminates background noise, so users can be heard even in the most extreme environments."
Needless to say, it's water and temperature resistant and installs into most helmets.
The kit includes 2 HBC120 Plus Control Units, 2 Stereo Speaker Sets with Embedded Microphones, 2 USB Charging Cables, 2 Permanent Helmet Mounts, 2 Goggle Mounts, 2 Helmet Side-Strap Mounts and 4 Velcro Speaker Mounts.
The iPhone shoots good video, but it 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 6/6S has a railslide mount system that's GoPro mount-compatible. Taht said, the optional chest mount -- the $50 ChestR -- is really the way to go. 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.
There's also a version for the iPhone 6 Plus/6S Plus.
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 (yes, you can actually use it to snowboard) 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.
The boots have improved with each generation (Apex was founded in 2008) and the new high-end "peak performance" model, the MC-C3, includes an adjustable flex-arm on the back of the chassis that allows you to adjust/customize the forward lean of those boots for higher performance. There's also a new external tongue design designed for smoother fit and closure as well as shedding water, and a dual Boa closure system for customized comfort and fit. The MC-C3 features a carbon upper cuff in the open-chassis exoskeleton for lateral rigidity and walkable, heat moldable, inner boot lined with Thinsulate.
As I said, the inner boots can also be used separately for snowboarding.
Price: $1300 (step-down models are available for less).
Thermacell's Heat Packs may not work quite as well as the low-tech disposable hand warmers, but they are reusable and charge via micro USB. The smallest version is shown here (there is a larger version) and is designed to fit in a pocket or a glove. Heat Packs can be switched between no heat, low heat (106F) medium heat (110F) and high heat (116F). They last up to 6 hours per charge, but it's worth noting the heat comes out of the orange side.
If you're looking for an external battery to carry around to charge your phone on the slopes, you might as well get one that also warms your hands. The Celestron ThermoCharge ($35), which houses a 4400 mAh rechargeable lithium battery, heats up quickly and reaches a maximum of 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius). That battery delivers up to 6 hours of continuous heat or charges your iPhone up to two times.
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.
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.
While most of the high-tech gear out there is geared toward downhill skiers and snowboarders, Nordic skiing gets in the mix with Madshus' Empower skis.
The skis have an integrated RFID chip that stores the skis' "unique DNA" and allows you to select the pair for your specific profile.
And naturally, there's an app for the skis -- the Madshus Empower App. It, "Let's you customize performance each and every time you head on to the snow thanks to the embedded wax helper. You can also manage your ski quiver, track workouts, and engage with Madshus online."
The third generation of Suunto's Ambit GPS watch comes in a couple different versions, including the top-of-the-line Ambit3 Peak and the step-down Ambit3 Sport (a heart-rate monitor is available as an accessory). It starts around $275 online and goes up to $600.
Suunto's Ambit watches are marketed more toward serious hikers, runners, cyclists, 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. And it also interfaces with your iPhone or iPad via the Movescount App.