The Digital Schusser

Headphones in hats, cell phones in sunglasses. It's skiing in the 21st century

Skiing once took you away from it all. The only sounds were the wind whistling through the trees and the shush of skis carving turns in the snow. These days, more skiers are bringing the modern world with them to the slopes. Snap a gadget the size of a pack of gum on sunglasses, for example, and you can call anywhere in the world without having to whip out your phone. Strap a cookie-size GPS gizmo on your sleeve, and you can find your altitude and the speed at which you're zipping down the mountain.

Purists may sneer, but some gadgets can make skiing more fun. So on a recent trip to Washington State's Crystal Mountain, in the shadows of Mt. Rainier, I packed a bevy of ski gizmos and became a cyber-Bode Miller.

IPods are familiar on the slopes. But Burton, maker of trendy snowboarding gear, has come up with a way to tune in without having to worry about earphones popping out each time you hit a mogul. Burton's R.E.D. Ordinance Audex Padded Hat ($60) builds in high-quality headphones that connect to any audio device. There's a one-touch mute button in case you actually want to talk to someone and a volume control on the cord. A shortcoming of music on the slopes is that you're cut off from your ski buddies. I found myself pressing the beanie's mute button at the end of every run so I could chat with my wife on the chairlift going back up the mountain.

Still, beanies don't bespeak elan. If you want to hear your music in style, pick up a pair of Oakley's (OO ) Thump 2 sunglasses. Like the original Thumps that appeared a year ago, the Thump 2s hold digital tunes in the earpieces -- but this one carries more music. And five tiny buttons on the frames -- two on one side, three on the other -- let users start and pause songs, move ahead or back one song, and control the volume. The 240-song model runs $449. If you can make do with 120 songs, the price is $299, and the 60-song unit goes for $249.

Oakley has brought another bit of technology to skiers with its RazrWire shades, developed in partnership with Motorola (MOT ). Pop on these $295 sunglasses, attach a small module to the frame's earpiece, and you can make calls. The module, which has a tiny microphone on one end and a speaker that fits into your ear on the other, uses Bluetooth wireless technology that connects to a cell phone that also uses Bluetooth stashed in your parka. The Motorola Razr phone I tested had voice dialing, so soon after I pushed a button on the module and said, "Call Ray," my buddy was jabbering in my ear. But when I skied and talked at the same time, all Ray could hear was the wind rushing over the microphone.

Another drawback: The RazrWires don't play music. And the Thump 2s don't use Bluetooth. So if you want to make phone calls between songs, you need two sets of glasses. Clearly, Oakley and Motorola are one step ahead of me. On Jan. 3, the companies announced the O ROKR sunglasses that take phone calls and play music. You'll have to wait until next summer to get them.

If you want to know when a storm is coming, a barometer can help. Suunto, the Finnish maker of high-end sport watches, puts one inside its $329 S6 ski watch. That's not all. The watch includes an altimeter and a clinometer, which measures the slope's angle. Put all that together and you can figure out how fast you're going and how far you've gone. Still, the watch is a tad complicated and takes some effort to understand all its features. But once you do, you can connect the watch to a PC so you can log your performance and measure it against other S6 wearers at Suunto's Web site. Oh, yeah -- the watch also tells the time.


If you want a bit more exactitude, try Navman's Sport.Tool A300. The unit, which straps around your arm, is bulkier than the S6. But it uses GPS technology to measure altitude, speed, and distance skied. The only real drawback with the A300 is that you can't download the data to keep track of performance over long periods. It's hard to beat the price, though. Navman introduced the A300 in the spring for $179. Now a little long in the tooth by tech standards, it can be found online for as little as $76.

Of course, the best way to capture all the fun on the slopes is with a camera. As an alternative to hauling around a digital camcorder, Oregon Scientific has come up with a way to lash one onto the top of your ski helmet. Its $120 ATC-1000 is a five-inch tube with a tiny camera and microphone at the end. The camera stores about ten minutes of video at its highest resolution setting, but users can add an hour or more of storage by inserting a secure digital memory card in the device. The video quality: just O.K. I grabbed footage of my 7- and 10-year-old boys zipping down the slopes. It wasn't quite worthy of snow sports filmmaker Warren Miller. But it's a top-rated production in my house.

By Jay Greene

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