Tech Meets the Slopes: Want an Escape or a Data-Driven Day?

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As I write this, a light snow is falling outside my window. But just an hour east of me, near the bottom of the Silver Fir Express lift at the Summit at Snoqualmie, there is already half-a-foot of new snow. At the Stevens Pass East Summit, Highway 2 looks like it could use a good plow.

How do I know this? An app that called CascadeSkier shows conditions and footage from various Cascade ski areas, from Mt. Hood in Oregon to Whistler in Canada. With such built-for-the-hills apps, a snow-lover’s phone can be a crystal ball — and that’s just the beginning.

A flurry of options

In the world of outdoor tech, there are a variety of choices, from GPS trackers for ski school students to 3D mapping and location tracking apps to technology that allows athletes with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors. Take, for example, the Cardo Systems scala rider Q3 device.

Originally designed for motorcyclists, a visually impaired skier and an instructor can each add one of these small devices to their respective helmets to allow for easy communication on the slopes. “What we try to do is give someone the tools to be as independent as possible”, says Dan Retallieau of the Outdoors for All Foundation, a Seattle-based nonprofit that provides outdoor recreation opportunities for people with disabilities and which uses the Q3 device.

Tech is expanding on the slopes like a snowball barreling down the mountain. Much of it is über useful, whether for safety, planning, education and, sometimes, humble bragging. My husband took great pleasure last season in proving to our kids that he traveled 27,000 vertical feet in five hours while on a Colorado ski trip. Thanks to his Ski Tracks app he could report his top speed of 60 miles per hour, the steepest slope being 35 degrees.

A quick note on disconnecting

Of course, there can be too much of a good thing. For instance, did you know that for a mere $1,179 (or, when not on sale, $1,629), RideOn goggles will add augmented reality to your outdoors experience? Virtual maps in a heads-up display, Facebook Live, HD video recording and soon, gaming capabilities?

I’m thrilled to report that my 15-year-old son, an avid skier, does not have those goggles on his gift list, telling me that going down steep slopes is fun enough. Whew. Not only do I think gaming would take away from the experience, distracted skiing is no better than distracted driving or walking (think Pokémon Go).

“Skiing is a great way to enjoy the pureness without mucking it up with technology,” says Brian Gierke, owner of Gerk’s Ski and Cycle. “You don’t want to have to worry about having your battery charged.”

Gierke recalls the time he went skiing with a friend who had splurged on hi-tech Oakley Airwave goggles. With a price tag of $550, they could track top speed, vertical drop speed and share footage with friends. But turns out Gierke’s friend forget to charge the batteries before they hit the slopes. The goggles? They ended up serving as just, well, eye protection.


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