Snowboarding, Sledding Alps Tests Camera Goggles: Travel

The heavy snow at the Swiss cliff-top village of Murren was just what I needed after two winters of meager accumulation around New York City.

My Alpine agenda included snowboarding, sledding and leaping from a cliff. A friend and I were also testing some new optical gear to record our adventures.

We started with a ride on a funicular up the mountain to the village of Allmendhubel, planning to snowboard back to Murren. We had two pairs of goggles with built-in cameras -- the Zeal Optics HD Camera goggles and the Liquid Image Apex Plus HD goggles -- and the GoPro Hero3 Black Edition camera. They each retail for about $400.

Test No. 1 gave low marks to the goggles, which kept fogging up despite their anti-fog lenses. Visibility was already hampered by the heavy snowfall, which also made it hard to tell how the mountain curved and led to more than a few tumbles.

Maybe the rookie mistake was taking the goggles off to clear away snow piling up around the edges. We had to wipe them down several times. The camera footage was unaffected by the fogging.

The quality of all three cameras was stunning, both while snowboarding and later basking in the sun atop the Schilthorn, a peak in the Bernese Alps.

The Zeal Optics model has a mini-viewer embedded inside the goggles and there is a charming fishbowl quality to the edges of the videos. Because of its larger frame, my peripheral vision was wider with these goggles.

Hands Free

Though both models are bulky, the weight was easy to forget while wearing a helmet. The hands-free aspect was crucial as I struggled to stay upright on my sled during several hairpin turns on the road from Murren to the next village, Gimmelwald.

The palm-sized GoPro proved to be the most versatile of the three because of its small body and being able to mount it on a helmet or torso and change the filming angle. Various other mounts are available.

But there were drawbacks too. I was worried about losing it, so I added additional tethers to secure the camera, which led to fumbling and lost time when I needed to free it. Because of the wide-angle lens and flat profile, my snow gloves play a starring role in several videos, especially while horseback riding in Iceland during a stopover on the way back to New York. It was the coldest I’ve ever felt.

I also found myself reformatting the SD card between computer downloads. Even though I deleted images, I would get a message that the card was full.

Acting Weird

Somewhere between our jumping off a cliff north of Murren and paragliding over the nearby valley, the GoPro started acting weird, and all the video I shot during my flight was corrupted. Both goggles captured flight video, however, complete with proof from the Zeal Optics of my crash landing.

The Liquid Image camera features a 135-degree wide-angle lens that can tilt 30 degrees. It was easier to use with gloves than the other model because its well-spaced buttons are located atop a slim box extending from the left strap. One button is on/off, while another switches between camera and video modes, signaled by a green or blue light inside the goggles. A right-side box houses the battery and SD card (6 gigabytes or higher).

Zeal Optics has a wider-angle lens at 170 degrees. Four buttons on the front right side of the goggle let you toggle between settings. It was challenging at times to press the right button with my snow gloves. The rubbery battery cover, with a little ball meant to keep it attached to the plastic box housing the battery, was flimsy. I lost it.

Little Things

The battery cover and SD card cover for the palm-sized GoPro were also disappointing. I was so worried about losing the small pieces of plastic that I only took the camera out of its waterproof case to recharge the battery.

Despite the glitches, being able to operate all three gadgets with gloves meant less risk of numb fingers or frostbite.

Technology aside, few things can top an old-school wooden sled speeding down a beautiful mountain road with little beyond snow walls for protection. It was a giddy thrill; it was awesome. By the second run we were prepared to start a bobsled team and figure out what tropical island would offer us citizenship to do so.

Headlamp Nights

When we returned the sled we found out that some locals take headlamps and keep sledding until 11 p.m. The caveat is that by then the cable car is shut and you have to hike back up. But it would have been worth another run.

Murren has had fresh snow this week and expects 7 centimeters (about 3 inches) more today, although the season officially closes April 21. In the village, we stayed at the Hotel Alpenruh along the main village road, scoring a decent deal through at $193.94 (180 Swiss francs at the time) per night for a double room and breakfast. Brunch at the revolving restaurant atop the Schilthorn was delicious with stunning views.

(Naureen S. Malik is a reporter for Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

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