The Skiing Issue
By Sung Han
on 1.16.14

There was a time when we wore ski goggles merely to protect our eyes from the elements. That’s clearly still one of their leading purposes, but if that’s all your goggles are doing for you then you’re missing out; you’re calling friends on a Nokia 5110 while they exchange dirty Snapchats in the ether. In 2012, Oakley partnered with Recon Instruments, maker of groundbreaking Heads-up Display (HUD) technology, to create the Airwave goggle and bring data and entertainment right into the wearer’s field of view, a la Minority Report. The second generation Oakley Airwave 1.5 ($649) launched at the end of 2013 with improvements across the board. We got our hands on a pair to test while shredding pow in Revelstoke, BC.

ski-issue-tag-650x100

The Airwave is equipped with a built-in HUD, integrated GPS, Bluetooth, an accelerometer, barometer and gyro sensor, all of which allows the goggles to display speed, time, location, distance, altitude, jump airtime and vertical descent, among other things. This all happens in a small screen on the bottom right quadrant of the goggle’s frame, which is perceived by the eye as a 14-inch screen viewed from five feet away. The skeleton of the goggle is the AirBrake, Oakley’s top-of-the-line snow goggle with SwitchLock technology for easy lens changes. We’ve ruined a handful of goggles over the years with rushed attempts to swap lenses, but these are hassle-free. Add in a comfortable fit and reliable fog prevention, and you’re making headway with your hierarchy of needs.

We thought the display might be distracting and perhaps even a hazard: imagine having something in your peripheral vision the entire time you’re skiing or snowboarding in a place as breathtaking as Revelstoke. But we quickly found that the HUD never directly interferes with the user’s line of sight. It takes a conscious effort to look down at the display — and when you do, you’re rewarded with a rich cove of information about your run.

The Airwave is like any piece of technology that comes along and changes your life: DVR, smartphone, SodaSteam Revolution. Once you make it part of your experience it just makes sense.

The Oakley’s spot-on GPS tracking lets the wearer plot a course down the mountain while locating friends and other points of interest in the area. By connecting to your smartphone it’s also possible to monitor heart rate (provided you’ve got the accompanying heart rate monitor), control music, and monitor calls, text messages and Facebook activity (though we drew the line just before the latter). Lots of bells and whistles, indeed. But we found that the more you give over to the Airwave, the more it stays out of the way and enhances the riding experience. There’s no fumbling around to take out a phone or look at watch, and instead of wondering if you beat your last time or how far you’ve gone compared to the day before, it’s just all right there.

The most useful features for us ended up being the simple ones like the time display. We all know what it’s like trying to squeeze in as many runs as possible on the slopes, so it’s invaluable to have that information right before our eyes at all times. The speedometer is just plain fun. While the location component is a rich feature, it wasn’t necessary for solo skiing in a resort setting. However, if you’re off-piste with friends it might make a lot of sense, particularly with a battery life that will last six hours on the mountain.

As much as we love new gear, we’re still skeptical about adding yet another tool to an already equipment-laden sport. It’s worth asking whether we really need goggles to do more than help us see. Ultimately, the Airwave is like any piece of technology that comes along and changes your life: DVR, smartphone, SodaSteam Revolution. Once you make it part of your experience it just makes sense. In addition to Oakley, Smith and Zeal both offer goggles with Recon pre-installed, and a handful of other companies are HUD-ready. It’s the future of goggles, and dammit, it’s pretty cool.

METHODOLOGY: GP correspondent Sung Han tested the Airwave 1.5 while snowboarding in Revelstoke, BC.