Skiing + Apple Watch = Untethered Freedom… with Benefits?

by Todd Lawson

There is arguably no other sport in the world that exposes oneself to such a high level of unbridled freedom than skiing does. But these days, too many people are interrupting that freedom by skiing with their smartphones. The constant need to stay ‘connected’ no matter where you are on the hill or in the backcountry is putting a serious dent in the ski experience. For some, the scariest part of skiing isn’t getting caught above a cliff band or losing your kids in a whiteout, it’s dropping your $700 iPhone off the chairlift when you’re trying to answer a call or check a text. Freezing fingers and lost gloves further add to the anxiety. Walk up any lift line in late May and you’ll see what I’m talking about.


Use your watch….because dropping your phone off the chairlift really sucks.

That’s where the Apple Watch 3, and it’s new slew of apps for skiers, steps in. Developers of the world’s most popular wearable device have lately been focusing on skiers and snowboarders who want to leave their phone at home and enjoy an ‘untethered’ experience on the mountain, while still reaping the benefits of digital metrics for the day. Digital metrics? If you’re the techie type, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Want to see how fast you just went on that slick groomer? Just flick your wrist and see if you hit 100/kmh. (Ed: speed is nothing without control!). Want to see a 3D render of exactly where you skied today? A couple of magic swipes and you can have at your mountain coverage over dinner in the cabin. Want to challenge your friends and family to see who skis the most during your weekend getaway? It’ll rank you all based on performance and tell you who takes home the trophy.

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Olympian Jonny Moseley tries to find out how he can find his kids on the mountain.

“Having the ability to track the details of runs with Apple Watch is an incredible asset for everyone from training athletes to skiers and riders just looking to have fun and stay active,” said Jonny Moseley, Olympic Moguls Gold Medalist and Squaw Alpine Mountain Ambassador. “It helps me when I’m out with my family to not only track exactly where my kids are on the mountain, but also compare our performance, so I can make sure I’m keeping up with my sons and add some fun competition to our day.”

Since its inception in 2015, the Apple Watch has been a key piece of equipment for runners and cyclists. Instead of running or riding with a clunky phone strapped to their body, they use the Apple Watch and the fitness apps to keep track of distance travelled, to monitor heart rate and to get critical metrics on performance so they can keep going further and faster with the help of some digital feedback. But this kind of digital ‘motivation’ isn’t for everyone. Some people frown upon bringing any kind of tech into the backcountry. Fair enough. They’re out there to disconnect, not check Facebook at the top of every pass. But the Apple Watch can be your best buddy out there, and it could save your life—especially if your pregnant wife calls and says it’s go-time. Guides are using it, coaches are using it, fitness-freaks are loving it.


The author sporting his freedom face during a Squaw Valley pow day.

But most skiers I know don’t go skiing to get a workout. They just want to ski. On the flipside, you simply can’t deny the fitness benefits of the sport. With all of the metrics available through apps on the Apple Watch, it’s a win-win for skiers and riders looking for a double-whammy of fitness and freedom. For these folks, the beauty of a single device is that your watch is your fitness tracker, and your fitness tracker is your watch. Having both of these on your wrist is seen by many as real benefit; with a heart rate monitor built in, and GPS on the latest Series 3 models, Apple Watch will likely make you ski harder, faster, and more often. All without pulling out your soul-sucking smartphone. That is a really good thing. Untethered freedom, why not?

Or, leave them all at home and Chinese Downhill it at the end of the day for bragging rights. We’ll leave that up to you.

Fitness freaks unite! All this on-mountain tech is hiding underneath your glove.

Apple Watch Series 3 GPS + Cellular

What we liked about it.

  1. Battery life is reliable, even after a big day in cold temps with lots of use.
  2. Hands-free texting. ‘Siri, where is the best bar for aprés?’
  3. On-Mountain Apps. Slopes, Snocru, Snoww, Ski Tracks. Find out what suits you best and use it with ease.
  4. Emergency SOS. If you’re alone and injured or have a major equipment problem, Apple Watch sends your emergency contacts a text message with your current location. (*must be within cell range however.)
  5. It’s waterproof.


What we didn’t like about it.

  1. First-time users may find it difficult to navigate through all of the apps and features, especially on the smaller version.
  2. The price. This may be a deterrent to some. The cheapest model is $330.00.
  3. You can’t take pictures with an Apple Watch (yet), so it’s best to bring your phone with you if you want to capture amazing images of your day. As a bonus though, the Slopes app (see below) can attach the images of the day onto your daily report to share on social media. After the skiing is over, of course.


Don’t follow these guys around the mountain waiting for the next lift to open, let the SLOPES app tell you when the alpine cracks. Photo: Keoki Flagg.


…and one app to rule them all
Designed specifically with snow-eaters in in mind (the developer himself is a skier turned snowboarder), the Slopes app is a one-stop shop for all-mountain everything. No matter where in the world you are, the app will find you and link you into whatever resort you happen to be skiing at. Or, if you’re just out hiking in the backcountry, it’ll find you too. Hit the start button and go skiing—it’ll do everything else for you.

“Apple Watch was an obvious choice for skiing and snowboarding from the beginning” said Curtis Herbert, developer of Slopes. “With more accurate, relevant metrics and the ability to re-live runs, the idea is 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.”

What does Slopes do?
Keeps track of:

  • Total vertical descent and horizontal distance
  • Number of runs
  • Average and maximum speeds
  • Total time on the slopes
  • Calories burned
  • Using sensors like the accelerometer, altimeter, GPS, and heart rate, Slopes is able to track when you’re actively skiing versus when you’re on a lift and to accurately measure elevation descent, horizontal distance, average speed, and max speed
  • With this data, Apple Watch tracks how many calories you burned and gives you credit in your Activity Rings. Your ski session is saved to the Activity app as a Workout.


Freedom, personified. Photo: Keoki Flagg.

“Slopes gives you all the bragging rights you need about your days hunting fresh powder,” says Hebert, who grew up chasing East Coast pow in Vermont. “You can track speed, vertical, distance, lift vs trail time, and more, all while going easy on your phone’s battery.”

Getting started with Slopes is a straightforward affair. Hit record once, then forget about it. Slopes will automatically detect lifts and runs for you all day long. Slopes is easy on the battery so you can ride all day and Slopes won’t miss a thing.