Android-Infused Goggles, or How I Broke 45 MPH on Skis and Survived

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Doug Aamoth / TIME.com

The fastest I’ve ever gone on skis is 45 miles per hour. I did so at exactly 6:49pm and 19 seconds on December 29, 2011. How do I know that? My ski goggles told me.

If you’re an avid skier and a technology buff, you’ve probably at least heard of Recon Instruments. The company makes an Android-powered gadget that affixes to a pair of ski goggles and presents real-time information to you while you’re skiing via a tiny screen.

(MORE: High-Tech Goggles Coming Soon: Next-Gen GPS Technology, Bluetooth, Android)

There are two versions: the $300 MOD and the $400 MOD Live. Those prices don’t include goggles, either, and you’ll have to pair the system with “Recon Ready” goggles from the likes of UVEX, Alpina, Zeal, Smith, Scott and Briko. In other words, this is a semi-serious investment.

But man, is this thing fun.

screenI’ve been testing the MOD Live version with a pair of near-$200 Briko goggles over the past couple months. The “Live” in the product name denotes the ability to connect to an Android smartphone via Bluetooth to see caller ID info for incoming calls, keep an eye on text messages, control music playback and even connect to certain wearable video cameras that have built-in wireless connections themselves. The standard MOD version, on the other hand, stocks a GPS connection and measures your speed, vertical elevation, altitude, distance skied, temperature, airtime off jumps and has a stopwatch function. All these features are part of MOD Live, too, with the addition of the extra connection options when paired with your phone.

The little display sits inside the lower-right corner of the goggles and represents itself like it’s a 14-inch screen located five feet away from your face. It’s far less obtrusive than I thought it would be, located just far enough out of my peripheral vision so as not to be distracting while I was skiing, but easy enough to glance at when I wanted to. Everything is controlled with a wireless armband, which worked decently enough given that I had to poke at it with big ski gloves on all day.

modlive

The ability to see how fast I was skiing and how high I was jumping was fun, to be sure, but the most useful feature was the ability to see information about various runs on the mountains I was skiing. The system presents a GPS-enabled map that shows your current position along with color-coded runs for nearby trails. While my friends and I were on a particular chairlift, for instance, I was able to point out that the run to our left was a Blue, the run to the right was a Black, and where the closest Greens were located. If other people in my group had their own MOD Live goggles connected to their own Android phones, we would have been able to see where we all were located on the mountain, too.

maps

So as you’re skiing, the goggles are constantly recording your location, turn, elevation and speed, and you can dump all that info into Recon’s “HQ” software after you get off the mountain. And not only can you look over your stats, you can actually play back entire runs in real time or sped up to 32x the original speed. All of the data is overlaid atop Google Maps.

Here’s a video of the historic 45mph run where I broke the land-speed record (note: I haven’t verified that 45mph on skis is an actual land-speed record, but it sure felt like it at the time):

If I were feeling really ambitious, I could upload this momentous run to Recon’s website and share it with the rest of the MOD user community.

The times where I either didn’t have these goggles with me or the battery had run out had me missing the functionality pretty thoroughly. I don’t ski often enough to drop $300 to $400 on something like this, unfortunately, but the system works well enough that it’s worth a closer look if you’re an avid skier.

The main downsides, aside from the price, are that the battery life is a bit short – I was able to squeeze about five hours before needing to recharge – and the Live system is currently only compatible with Android phones. Recon says that iPhone 4S (and up, presumably) compatibility will be ready for the 2012-2013 ski season, however. I would have been just as happy with the $300 MOD system, too, as I didn’t have occasion to really dig into all the connected functionality of the Live version – the speedometer feature kept me plenty entertained.

(MORE: Iced Coffee: World’s First Ski-Thru Starbucks Opens in California)

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