First, a disclaimer: I don't like skiing with my phone. I begrudgingly bring it along when I'm in the mountains, mainly for emergencies and the occasional Instagram pic, but I try not to pull it out. I definitely don't use my iPhone to track my vertical feet or maximum speed or share my location with friends. That's just not my thing.
But, apparently, it is a thing a lot of people do. So many, in fact, that this week, Apple Watch rolled out new technology in its Apple Watch Series 3 that's geared specifically toward skiers. The new Apple Watch software, with its built-in GPS, accelerometer, and altimeter, works in tandem with a slew of newly improved apps that aim to make it easier for you to record the stats from your day on the hill—miles skied, number of runs, maximum speed, calories burned, and more—all from a handy device on your wrist.
Since it first debuted in 2015, Apple Watch has been loved by fitness fanatics and the generally health conscious, who love the watch for, among other things, its ability to track your physical activity throughout the day. It's also been a good tool for sports like running and biking, where you can leave your phone behind and use the watch to monitor your distance and heartrate and check text messages and alerts. But until now, the watch hasn't really been an instrument used by skiers.
Starting this week, you'll be able to use apps like snoww, Slopes, Snocru, and Ski Tracks to record new metrics on the hill from your watch and use voice command to start and stop your apps. Your physical activity recorded in those apps now feeds directly into the watch's total activity tracker.
On a bluebird powder day at Squaw Valley, California, on Tuesday, with 18 inches of new snow in the last 24 hours, I was there for Apple's grand rollout of the new watch technology. First, I tested Squaw's newly updated app on the watch—the best thing going is the notifications. You can get lift updates on your wrist, which means you can be riding KT-22 and when Headwall chair opens, you'll get pinged with the news before everyone else, without digging your phone of a pocket. Plus, there's the trackers.
"Squaw skiers are always trying to out ski the person next to them," says Tracy Chang, Squaw's vice president of digital marketing. Which is why they've built a leaderboard and performance tracker into the app that lets you see who on the mountain is logging the most ski days, vertical, and lifts ridden. (A guy named Keith W. is currently leading the vertical game: He's bagged 61 ski days this season and over 1.3 million vertical feet. Nice work, Keith W.)
Former Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley, a Squaw Valley ambassador who was on hand during the watch debut, says he has ideas for even more features for the Squaw app in the future, like an audible voice guide that could whisper in your ear insider details on the mountain in real-time, based on your exact location. "Imagine if it could say, take a right here to get to this run or these are the best spots for après ski when you roll into the village at the end of the day," Moseley tells me. That's an idea I could get behind, especially when visiting a resort you don't know.
Then I tried an app called Slopes, which was built by a snowboarder from the Poconos named Curtis Herbert, an app developer and consultant, who in 2013, while riding at Pennsylvania's Blue Mountain, decided to build a phone app to help capture his day more fully than other apps were doing. "I didn't want this to just be a stat tracker," Herbert says. "The idea to let you re-live your best days and capture your memories—having photos integrated, making it easy to share. I wanted this to feel like a journal."
When the Apple Watch debuted, Herbert rewrote his app to work more fluidly with the watch. Now, he says, about 25 percent of his 110,000 monthly active users report data from their watch.
At the end of the day, I learned how much time I'd spent on the chairlift versus going downhill, my longest run (2.6 miles), my top speed (43 miles per hour), and my peak altitude (8,711 feet). I learned that I'd burned enough calories—a couple hundred an hour—to justify a chocolate chip cookie from Wildflour Bakery. (OK, the app didn't mention the cookie, but I figured that's what it was trying to tell me.)
The biggest benefit of the Apple Watch for skiers? You can check text messages or find friends without taking off your gloves or risking dropping your phone off the lift.
The future of skiing could look something like this: Skiers zoom around the mountain, recording their day's movement, being motivated to ski longer and harder to meet their fitness goals, and sharing their day on social media through geo-tagged photos, 3D maps, and bar graphs showing their day's stats. That's a future we may live in right now, one that's more informed, more connected, and more engaged.
Or, you could just disconnect and go skiing.