Like most Garmin users, I’ve run with my Forerunner, as well as the normal mountain or road bike journeys. But as frequent readers will know, I’ve also pushed mine a bit more. I’ve taken it on lake and ocean swims, as well as multi-day kayak trips. So it was natural to kick it up a notch and venture into the French Alps for some high altitude downhill skiing with my little red friend.
Over the course of a number of ski days I’ve been able to perfect the tricks to skiing with your Forerunner (or really any GPS for that matter). Nothing I mention here voids your warrant in any way/shape/form. By the same token – don’t blame me if you crash and burn and somehow manage to break your watch. But do keep in mind that the watch is actually very durable. If you crash hard enough to break it – it’s likely because you hit some other object (besides snow), in which case you’ve probably got other issues. Really no different than crashing on a bike at that point.
With that…here’s my guide to skiing with your GPS. Pretty much everything I say here will also apply to snowboarders…assuming you actually get off the ground ;).
Getting into position:
As any user of GPS technology will tell you – the most important piece to the puzzle is positioning. Location, location, location. This holds even more true for skiing. With skiing you’ll be constantly turning and changing the position of the watch relative to the satellites. Furthermore, you’re rate of speed is probably higher than a run and thus a lack of coverage will quickly lead to bad data.
The good news is you have a few options to work with. Let’s break them out: in order of preference
- The Wrist: Ok, this may seem obvious – but there’s a few things to keep in mind here. First you want to ensure it’s ABOVE your heavy ski coat. Putting it below your coat will only reduce satellite coverage at times when you need it most. Don’t worry about the temperature – the Forerunner 305 is designed to operate in temps down to -4*F (or -20*C) – per page 66 on the operating manual. And of course it’s more than water resistant for our purposes.The advantage to the wrist is that you can easily see it while you are skiing – or at the base of a run/chair/etc… The disadvantage is that if your coat is uber-thick – the wrist strap may not fit all the way around. I’m using the Velcro strap that comes with the quick release kit and it has much more flexibility with respect to adjustability.
The downside to putting it on your wrist is that if it’s not tight I could see a case where you might lose it if it fell off. One way to solve this problem is just take a simple piece of string and tie off the wrist band to your coat/glove/straps. Problem solved.
- On your head: This is technically the best position for reception. But the problemo is you can’t see it without taking off your hat/helmet. If you have a helmet, the best place is to use the goggle strap button/clip that’s on the back of most helmets to also feed the watch through. The problem here is you quite simply look like a dork. Nuff’ said.
- On a backpack. This actually isn’t half bad and what I did for a few hours one day. Most outdoorsy backpacks have plenty of places to securely clip in your GPS. Just do it on the upper half so it has a semi-clear view of the sky. The only downside to this place is you can’t easily see it. But if you just want to analyze it after the fact – it may be the best overall location with respect to security.
For the record, here’s places that don’t work:
- Hanging under your wrist using the glove strap. Reception sucks – doesn’t work. Simple as that.
- In your coat pocket. I tried upper chest, arm pocket, inside pocket. None of them gave great reception in most cases. Sure it kinda sorta works in some cases – but not all.
- Inside a backpack. Unlike #3 above, inside the backpack is basically as bad as being inside your coat. Bad reception means bad data.
- On your pole strap: This one isn’t horrible, but it’s not ideal. The problem is that you’re likely to either rip it off accidentally or otherwise lose it during the day.
Ok, got it all placed? Give it a quick test run and make sure that you don’t get the dreaded “No Signal” error message. Once that’s set, let’s move onto using it on the hill.
Using it on the mountain:
Ok, before we go into details – let’s get one thing straight. Actively toying with a GPS device while at the same time skiing at a rate greater than 5MPH is a recipe for disaster. Not so much for you – but for the people you manage to run into. So let’s keep the toying to a minimum…mmkay?
With that said – I use four data fields on mine. I start with the ‘Other’ baseline, but then modify it with four fields that I want. To add fields, go to:
- Settings > General > Data Fields
- (I selected biking, because it shows MPH instead of Pace), but “Other” also works
- Set it to four data fields, then enter
- Then select the data fields you want
Here are the four fields I use:
- Max Speed: This tells me the overall max speed for the day
- Current speed: This is the ‘in the moment’ speed, keeping in mind that this usually lags behind about 5-7 seconds.
- Lap Speed: This is the average speed for the lap. A lap is whatever you want it to be. I generally hit a laptop at the top/bottom of the chair to get a good understanding of my average speed
On the hill you pretty much have two options with respect to stopping or starting it. Your first option is to leave the watch running the whole day (perhaps except lunch). This means it captures your chairlift rides, lift lines and really anywhere you go. The second option is to stop/start the timer at the start/end of every run.
I’ve tried both methods and really just leaving it running is the easiest. Sport Tracks allows you to easily split out the data as you see fit, so it’s just not worth the hassle of stopping/starting it all day long.
Finally…there is splits. Creating a lap point/split is useful if you want to know exactly how long a given run is without the messiness of sorting through 8 hours of data. One day I did splits all day long at the top/bottom of runs, and the next I only did it for a few select runs. It doesn’t affect anything other than just way points you can look at and check later.
Analyzing the Data:
Now you’ve completed a day’s worth of skiing and it’s time to see just how much descending you did. For this, we’ll use Sport Tracks 2.0. Sure, you could use something else – but why use something sub par when you can use the best for free?
The first thing I did was to create a new Downhill Skiing profile. You don’t have to do this, but this allows me to easily sort out the data from the rest of my sports. To do so open Sport Tracks and then:
- (Other Tasks in the lower left) > Select View > Categories
- Click the ‘Add Category’ button at the top
- Give it a new category name, I use ‘Downhill Skiing’
- Leave the subcategory as ‘My Activities’
- Uncheck the options box, and change the ‘Pace or Speed’ option to ‘Speed’.
- If you’re a metric person, then change your unit of measure to what floats KM/meters.
- Now switch back to the main view (Select View > Daily Activity)
Go ahead and import your data as normal from your GPS device. Except this time choose Downhill Skiing as the category type. After I import, I use two free plug-ins to import the weather and auto-correct the elevation. These are optional, but are kinda neat.
Once that’s done – you’ll have your data viewable on a map. There’s really a few different things that are interesting. First up is the route view:
The problem with the above is that since most aerial photography/satellite imagery is bought from the summer seasons – you can’t really tell where you skied.
Next up is the elevation over time map. This is accessible from the middle drop-down that normally says ‘Summary’, change it to ‘Elevation’. And you can see your little up and down graphs. It will also show you your total ‘Descending’ for the day. This is of course the number that all skiers boast about – how many vertical feet they skied that day.
What’s also kinda cool is using Google Earth to ski your route overlayed onto a 3D view of it. From Sports Tracks simply click “Export > Google Earth”. This assumes you’ve installed the free Google Earth application.
You can easily see the lengths of each run by looking at splits (if you did splits above):
So there ya go…some tips on how to use the Garmin Forerunner 305 while skiing. If you’ve got any suggestions, feel free to pass them along.