Revisiting the Measure of Skiing (Part 2)

 This is the second part of my January 14 blog in which we discussed sport watches that can measure vertical drop.

I knew that GPS was a great tool for tracking someone’s travel, including time, distance and elevation and had considered buying a portable device for sometime. I had seen a few wrist versions, but found them too bulky to wear. During this past summer, I was introduced to the latest in personal GPS technology: Garmin, well-known for its navigation and communication devices had the perfect replacement for my aging Sunnto, and this past Christmas I received the ultimate ski-geek present, a Garmin Forerunner watch, that could precisely measure my skiing and provide me with lasting memories of my on-hill adventures. I should say that besides being a skier, I’m also a road runner, a mountain biker and a hiker, so this watch would be used in all of my other outdoors endeavors. 


Upon familiarizing myself with the new toy and installing the software, I tested it early January on my daily jogging course and discovered how easy it was to operate. Upon returning home, I just had to download the data on my computer before discovering in graphic details what I had done. Measuring my skiing would be the same and I couldn’t wait to testing it. This rather small watch only shows the time elapsed, the distance covered and the pace or speed per lap, while it’s worn; you must therefore download the complete data into a computer at the end of the day, and only then, do you get the full picture. To get started with recording a typical skiing day, you first need to get a satellite signal, then just pressing “start” gets you going and you don’t have to worry about anything until you take a break, have lunch or get to the end of the day. At that point, just pressing “stop” ends the recording session. 

 As my next test was skiing at Deer Valley Resort, I choose to sample most of its ski runs. As I was ready to board Carpenter Express, I located the satellite, pressed the “start” button and was on my way to a three-and-a-half hour adventure that would take me to Empire Canyon, Bald Mountain and Deer Crest. 

When I returned home, I downloaded my ski day and could see right away that I had skied for 3 hour 28 minute, covered more than 36 miles (riding lifts and actual skiing,) reached a maximum speed of 47.2 mph near the base of the Deer Crest Gondola, skied a total vertical of 24,809 ft and reached an elevation of 9,553 ft at the top of Empire. Most telling however was the graph of my itinerary showing all the territory covered in just a few hours. 


Another interesting graph was the one showing the vertical drop for each one of the runs taken that illustrated multiple laps, and steep as well as flat sections encountered along the way. 

 As an option, all this data can be put together in an animated format that shows the entire travel during the time my skiing was recorded.  In that animated “Player” view, I can actually re-live my skiing in accelerated time, showing all the ups and downs and the choreography of time, distance, elevation and speed.  So with these results in hand, it’s impossible not to love this new Garmin. I plan to use it most of the time I ski Deer Valley this winter and do the same this summer when I ride my mountain bike or just go hiking. This by far is the best outdoors and fitness monitoring tool I’ve ever owned, and priced like a good quality watch, I don’t see why you should deprive yourself either!

The best and most visually rewarding feature is that it’s possible to integrate your entire course into Google Earth and discover each one of your runs in a vibrant, three-dimensional format (too bad Google Earth only renders a green, summer view!)

Finally, if some of your friends are equipped with other Garmin products that are ready for the special software, you’ll be able – if you so choose – to be seen by them and they may also share their on-snow exploits as well, making you all a very happy, busy and accountable family of skiers!

Revisiting the Measure of Skiing

Around the same time last year (February 9, 2010) I wrote a blog about how we might measure skiing. I offered a variety of tools from keeping track of actual mileage on skis (seemingly hard to do!) to counting the number of days, and my conclusions called for using what’s called in ski-jargon, “vertical drop,” the measure of a ski hill height times the number of descent. So the more “vertical” is tallied, the more skiing has been accomplished. This wasn’t a perfect solution; it didn’t take into consideration the number of miles covered nor the time it took. Another important variable not accounted for was the quality of the grooming – or its absence – as well as the type and quality of snow. My “vertical” yardstick wasn’t perfect but if we were to accept it, how can we keep track of it?

The subject has intrigued me for a long time and ever since, I’ve always relied upon remembering how much vertical rise was associated with each Deer Valley lift, then made a point to count how many daily rides I made on each lift I used. That way, my ski day over, I could easily enter these numbers, using a spreadsheet and finding out my “vertical skiing.” Perhaps a few other die-hard might go through this exercise, but the vast majority of Deer Valley skiers won’t see that daily accounting as their favorite après-ski activity!

Being the old geek that I am, I had thought of easing this chore by purchasing a wrist computer. The first that came on the market in the eighties was the Avocet Vertech, which took the rugged look of a sport-watch. The system was based on the altimeter that showed a barometric pressure and an altitude reading. The reading would change whenever there was a variation in elevation, or in the weather, and needed to be constantly adjusted, generally by matching the altitude to a known elevation. In addition to recording daily descent and number of runs, the Avocet also displayed elevation, temperature and time. One main drawback of that model was that it had to be sent to the factory for periodic battery change.

A decade later, Suunto, a Finnish manufacturer of liquid-filled compass, jumped in the all-in-one watch design by offering the Vector, also combining altimeter, barometer, and compass. Compared to its predecessor, the product was found to be more reliable, had user-replaceable batteries and was somewhat more stylish, so I picked it as my wrist-computer. It would become my trademark wristwatch. It proved to be quite sturdy albeit a bit larger than a normal watch; it displayed altitude, temperature and time, but most importantly was supposed to record my total daily ski descent. The biggest downside of that watch was the complexity of its controls. Not only was the manual required reading, but you needed it anytime you wanted to use a specific function of the watch.

In spite of my determination at understanding the inner workings of that device and reading its instructions on countless occasions, I could never figure out how to make it work and remembering the procedure for any length of time. I had in fact bought myself an oversized, $200 sport-watch and this frustrated me so much that I had made it my 2010 new year’s resolution to finally mastering that smart timepiece. I would try on several occasions and again, would end up throwing the towel. This was until I found a much better “mouse-trap,” but my story has ran long enough for today; I’ll introduce you to this brand-new device in my next blog, so just stay tuned…