Testing Skiing Features: Apple Watch vs Garmin Watch

Many individuals monitor their ski (or snowboard) excursions using their timepieces. They do so across a variety of sports profiles, ranging from jogging to biking to skiing. However, both Garmin and Apple watches have features and applications specifically designed for skiing/snowboarding, which track metrics such as the number of descents, total vertical drop, time spent on chairlifts, and even comparisons with friends.

In this article, the focus will be on downhill skiing/snowboarding. It will be referred to as ‘skiing’ from this point forward. Nevertheless, there is no distinction between the two sports profiles in terms of watch/app functionality. Both can track your activities whether you are on one board or two.

From a watch perspective, Garmin watches come equipped with built-in ski/snowboard features. On the other hand, the Apple Watch does not have built-in features for skiing and snowboarding. Instead, users will need to download a 3rd party app for that purpose. I opted for ‘Slopes’ as it seemed to have the most clear information on Apple Watch compatibility (I also briefly experimented with Snoww). Slopes offers a free version with all essential features and a paid version with additional features ($29/year or $49 for a family pass for five people). A 7-day trial of the paid features is also available, which can be useful for ski vacations. During our trip, a friend used the free version, and functionally, it was almost identical to the paid version on the slopes.

Moving on to Garmin watches, most models with barometric altimeters have modes specific for skiing and snowboarding. Garmin has made adjustments to the ski mode since last spring (2023), particularly in terms of chairlift time tracking. Older models may lack these firmware update tweaks, while newer models have them. For the purpose of this post, we will focus on how the newer models operate. In practice, users may not notice a significant difference either way.

With that brief introduction, let’s delve into the details of each watch’s ski tracking capabilities.

Apple Watch (with Slopes):
As mentioned earlier, the Apple Watch does not have a native skiing/snowboarding sports profile. Therefore, users need to utilize a 3rd party app such as Slopes for this purpose. I started with the free version of Slopes, then proceeded to a 7-day trial, and eventually opted for the paid $29/year subscription. Considering the typical cost associated with skiing, $29/year seems quite reasonable. Most on-hill features are available in the free version, with the paid version offering friend tracking and map downloads to your phone (not the watch).

After installing the Slopes app on your phone, ensure that the companion app is also installed on your watch before hitting the slopes. Configuration options, such as syncing with Strava, should be set up before skiing to ensure seamless data saving.

Select the Slopes app from your watch apps list, choose your sport, and ensure GPS is activated. You can adjust the data format, toggle friend tracking, and then begin your skiing activities.

During the first few days of my trip, I encountered some GPS connectivity issues with the Slopes app. However, these were sporadic and did not persist throughout the trip. Despite this hiccup, the app accurately tracked each run and provided real-time data on the watch display.

While the on-watch features may have limitations, the post-ski analytics provided by the Slopes app are outstanding. Users can create ‘trips’ to organize vacation stats, access weather forecasts, view resort conditions, and much more. The app consolidates data from multiple ski areas and provides detailed insights into each run and overall skiing performance.

Furthermore, the app seamlessly syncs data to the Slopes cloud platform, making it easy to access and analyze skiing metrics across multiple devices.

Garmin Watch (built-in features):
Garmin watches, on the other hand, offer built-in ski modes for tracking skiing and snowboarding activities. Users must add the Ski mode to their watch’s sports profiles, customize data fields, and enable GPS before hitting the slopes.

One of the key features of the Garmin Ski mode is the AutoRun function, which automatically creates runs based on sensor data. Users can customize data pages and metrics to suit their preferences, allowing for a more personalized skiing experience.

Garmin watches with maps display ski resort maps and trails, although accessing this feature with winter gloves may be cumbersome. Post-skiing data analysis is available in the Garmin Connect app/site, where users can review activity summaries and detailed statistics.

While the Garmin watch excels in providing detailed on-slope data and customization options, the post-skiing analytics may not be as comprehensive as those offered by the Slopes app. However, users can connect their Garmin account to the Slopes app to access enhanced analytics features.

In conclusion, both the Apple Watch with Slopes app and Garmin watches are capable of tracking skiing activities effectively. The choice between the two will depend on individual preferences and the specific features desired. Whether using the Apple Watch for its post-skiing analytics or the Garmin watch for its customizable data fields, both devices offer valuable insights for skiing enthusiasts.

Regardless of the watch chosen, the primary goal is to enjoy the skiing experience while leveraging the technology to enhance performance and track progress. Thank you for reading!

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