Wearable technology is finally at a point where it can greatly improve the skiing experience. And while GoPros and Bluetooth-enabled heated gear come to mind as possibly the most popular, smartwatches are quickly becoming so skiing-specific that they vastly improve days at the resort and in the backcountry.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar smartwatch rocked my skiing world while testing it throughout Colorado over the past season. Whether you want all the data in the world or just want superior convenience on your wrist, the Fenix 6 offers both in a handsome package.
Whether it was pre-loaded ski area maps, the ability to play music to Bluetooth headphones, and contact-free payment with preloaded credit cards, the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro’s user-friendly features meant I could keep my phone tucked into a warm, battery-saving pocket and use my watch to find out where to go or pay for lunch on the mountain. While skiing at Winter Park with a group of new friends in February, I did both of these things much to the amazement of the group, who were impressed a non-Apple Watch could pull these things off.
Perhaps the most impressive feature is that the battery life is also unbelievably long. Even with constant heart rate and pulse oximeter readings; daily training and skiing sessions that use the GPS, altimeter, and barometer; and the occasional jam-session with pre-loaded Spotify music, I find myself only charging the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar every couple of weeks.
A big part of the long life of the battery comes from the futuristic solar panel technology installed in the watch face. Called “PowerGlass” by Garmin, there’s a one-millimeter wide circle between the display and the watch body that charges the watch using sunlight. While it might not give the watch a huge boost of power, I’ve noticed that on sunny days there is a minimal amount of battery reduction that occurs when using GPS tracking and the wrist heart rate monitor. The battery declines slowly during longer uses and on cloudy days as well.
Additionally, if you are even more concerned about battery life during a very long ski tour without a backup battery supply, there are different power modes on the smartwatch that can make it last even longer in the field.
Testing the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar in the Backcountry
While ski touring Buffalo Mountain outside of Silverthorne, Colo., the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar also proved extremely useful with detailed data about elevation ascended, the number of miles hiked, and a hi-def topo map that showed me exactly where I was on the mountain. With the push of a button before descending the Silver Couloir off the mountain’s northern flank, the data presented switched into descent mode, making everything easier for my group and me to get down correctly.
For backcountry skiing, users can build a course using Garmin’s Connect app—or a third-party app like Gaia which can be uploaded into Garmin’s system—and then sync it to the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar to make route-finding in complex terrain easier. Having a pre-loaded course also enables the watch to give more detailed climbing information during the ascent, providing users with better estimates about how much vertical distance is left to the top of an objective.
My partners on the Buffalo Mountain trip were using older Garmin Fenix 5 models. Comparing their data at the end of the day to the info recorded by the Fenix 6, it’s clear that the 6 is significantly more accurate for both distance and elevation data.
This Watch Can Help You Stay Healthy During a Ski Vacation
The last critical feature worth mentioning for skiers is the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar’s ability to take fairly accurate heart rate and pulse oximeter readings from the wrist. This can be helpful for measuring exertion and oxygen levels during pre-ski trip training, as well as acclimation when at altitude. While it can be hard to cope with low pulse ox readings when going from sea level to Colorado’s lofty Summit County for the annual ski trip, for example, it can also provide the incentive to start out by taking it easy both on the mountain and during après until your body is ready.
Worth noting here is that these readings are very similar to the trendy, screen-free fitness readers like Whoop and Apollo Neuro. But considering you can get the readings on your wrist plus a wealth of other features, you don’t need any other gadget in addition to a Garmin Fenix 6 Pro for health info, which might be one more reason to justify the price tag.
Plus, with the right amount of knowledge and proper use, these types of health readings can be early detectors of illness, including Covid-19.
While the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar is the best smartwatch for skiers that I’ve tested, it’s still not quite perfect. Popular people—or those who just have too many phone notifications turned on—might find the wrist buzzing to get annoying when the watch is linked to a smartphone. And it takes quite a few clicks on the watch to get to the settings menu to turn it off.
Also, the solar-powered watch face isn’t a touch screen, which took some adjustment for me considering so many other things are these days. But once I got used to it, I realized don’t have to clean the watch face nearly as much.
Lastly, while the interface is pretty good, I find that the Garmin Connect app takes longer to figure out compared to Suunto’s app or most of the options on the Apple Watch. While it does get better, it’s pretty complex and not super intuitive at first.
With a price tag of $800 MSRP for the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar, it might be tempting to save a few bucks and go for a base model of the Fenix 6. But because the map features are only available on the Pro versions, the added price is absolutely worth it for skiers who frequent both ski resorts and backcountry locations. Not going for the solar model might make sense for price-conscious skiers as well, considering most watches are tucked under jacket sleeves throughout the day. But for backcountry skiers looking to squeeze as much time as possible out in the mountains, the solar is especially handy to keep the battery going strong. [MSRP: From $800, buy.garmin.com]