Best GPS for Skiing

One of my colleagues asked me a few weeks back to advise on a GPS device for skiing, with capability to track speed & altitude, and allow for some post piste analysis. Disclaimer: I know nothing about skiiing, having never got round to trying it, but the needs are similar to hill walking.

There’s a number of possibilities, depending on the functionality you want when on the piste, what you own and how much you want to spend. There are 4 basic options, in increasing order of expense:-

  • GPS Data-logger – no display – so you can’t see anything during the day, but it is the cheapest option. Just set it, connect to the top of your pack, and forget until you get back to the PC. For example Pharos make one that looks reasonable. I’m not sure how well these devices do altitude as I only use mine for latitude/longitude (for geotagging photos), but it’s possible you could use these instructions to post process the data after the day to get the altitude from a datalogger. The Qstarz BT-Q1000 Platinum Travel Recorder looks like another good option, and many more are available from the US store Semsons.
  • Nokia S60 mobile phone with the SportsTracker software from Nokia. Not sure if this will show altitude on the phone. There’s a similar looking application available called SportsDo for doing this on a Windows Mobile or Java based phone. I’m sure there has to be an app for the iPhone 3G to do something similar, but I haven’t looked.
  • Running GPS – Garmin Forerunner 305 or 405 or in the US 305 / 405 – optimized for wearing on the wrist – and gives you the stats while you’re running/skiing, however no altimeter, so you have to rely on the GPS for altitude. You will get speed & distance on the display… just no ascent/descent info (until you get it back to the PC and process the data using these great instructions). 

  • Hiking GPS with altimeter, such as the UK Vista HCx / US HCx (sensitive, but not the easiest unit to use), or the very easy-to-use touchscreen UK Oregon 300 / US Oregon 300. You get a screen so that you can see what’s going on at the moment, or when you get to the bottom of the hill, and you get the data stored so that you can process it later. You can also install topographic maps of the ski runs. These devices will let you see extensive stats of your last run while on the trail (assuming you remember to reset the trip computer at the top, otherwise you’ll get the stats for the whole day). I can get the following info from my Garmin Oregon 300:-
    • Average ascent/descent speed (m/m)
    • Ascent/Descent maximum speed (m/m)
    • Total Ascent / Descent (m)
    • Speed - instantaneous
    • Speed - moving average
    • Speed - maximum
    • Speed - Overall average
    • Distance (odometer)

    I believe the most accurate on vertical speed will be the Garmin GPS with the barometric altimeter. These use the GPS altitude to calibrate the barometric altimeter (which otherwise would be offset due to changes in barometric pressure), and are more accurate than GPS altitude alone.

Software:- SportTracks seems to be the best s/w for working with tracklogs on the PC, although it takes a little time to learn how to use it.