Thu, Jan 05, 2006 - Page 14 News List

There's no business like snow business


Photos courtesy of manufacturers

New wearable technologies turning up at ski resorts this winter promise to augment the adrenaline rush of launching yourself down a snow-slathered mountain.

Protective helmets now sport cozy ear pads with speakers connected to your digital music player. Durable wristwatches can count your calories and measure your rate of descent. And easy-to-use helmet-fixed camcorders can capture every twist and turn of your best run -- or tumble.

For ski and snowboard buffs, this is the year to upgrade your gear.

Skiing and snowboarding are already pricey affairs, with lift tickets pushing US$50 at most California area resorts.

Add that to the price of occasional new equipment, travel costs and lodging, and mountain enthusiasts are left with a tough decision on whether to buy extra gadgets for the trip.

I took an assortment of gear on a recent snowboarding trip to the Lake Tahoe area and the famed ski resort, Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 winter Olympics.

On the watch

The US$230 AXN300 from Polar Electro Inc is a rugged wristwatch that measured my altitude, average rate of descent and basic fitness level, with the help of a heart rate monitor that fit comfortably around my chest and communicated wirelessly with the watch.

After spending about a half-hour one evening before the trip entering my height, weight, age and other data and measuring my at-rest heart rate, I took it out for an hour of vigorous snowboarding on some intermediate and advanced runs.

I learned afterward that I had descended 243m per minute at the maximum pace, burned 414 calories and stayed in a primary fitness target zone for nearly the entire hour. The information was displayed in text format by toggling through several screens on the watch. All the data were stored in digital files for later review, but unfortunately, you can't download the information to a computer for further analysis.

I was able toggle through the menus wearing thick snowboarding gloves, thanks to the well-spaced buttons on the right side of the watch.

The Polar watch performed great and gave me information I could really use to determine my health on the hills.

Filming your ride

Next up was the Samsung SC-X105 (US$600), also known as the Sports Camcorder X. It has a nice rubberized exterior and easy-to-read menus on the flip-out LCD screen.

Best of all, you can mount its cigar-sized camera to most helmets. The strap held the external camera tight to my helmet all day, with little added weight.

The small, black-and-blue unit records MPEG-4 video to 512 megabytes of built-in memory or to an external Memory Stick. Picture quality at the highest setting is fine, but unfortunately, at that setting, I could only get 12 minutes of footage on the built-in memory. A 256-megabyte Memory Stick cost me US$40, but added only six minutes.

My runs down the hill usually took less than two minutes, and the camcorder's memory filled up long before lunchtime. I could have extended the recording time by using a lower-resolution setting, but that footage looked spotty in testing and wouldn't have been worth the trouble.

And the battery life weighed in at a gutless one hour on a full charge.

High five for a helmet

I'd spend my money instead on US$85 Giro Encore Audio Series snowboarding helmet and pocket the change.

That was indeed the standout product of the trip. The comfy ear pads contain small speakers and a standard audio input jack so you can pipe your tunes into your head for the ride. It comes with a coiled audio jack extender cord.

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