15 inches of fresh powder, not a cloud in the sky and it was a Tuesday, so the weekend crowds were nowhere near — was the kind of day skiers dream about. I had just reached the base of the Granite Chef lift at Squaw Valley after coming down the Main Backside bowl when I peeked down at my Apple Watch Series 3. I had been skiing for two hours and twenty-two minutes, descended 6,451 vertical feet with a max speed of 47 miles per hour and had burned 458 calories. Cool.
Tracking metrics and statistics on your wrist isn’t exactly novel. Various smartwatches and fitness trackers have been able to do it for years, and they’ve been great tools for runners and cyclists. Yet they weren’t as reliable for skiers and snowboarders — things like vertical descent, calories burned, and time spent on lifts or in lift lines were difficult to calculate. And traditional smartphone ski apps, without access to your heart-rate data, weren’t able to accurately tell you calories burned. Now, the most recent watchOS update has allowed the Apple Watch Series 3 to accurately keep track of both accurate ski and workout data, making it the ultimate device for skiers.
Even though it’s actually pretty similar to the Series 2 (which Apple doesn’t sell anymore) — both models have a built-in GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope and heart-rate sensor — the Series 3 is a far superior device to ski. That’s because, additionally, it has a built-in altimeter to measure elevation. This allows the Series 3 to know when you’re standing still, sitting on a lift or skiing downhill. And coupled with its upgraded motion coprocessor, the Series 3 is able to accurately estimate the number of calories you burn. All this data is integrated with your iPhone’s Health app so you’ll know if and when you hit your daily goals, too.
(Note: The Apple Watch Series 3 can be purchased with or without cellular. If you set up a cellular plan with the Series 3, you’ll be able to send/receive phone calls, reply to texts and get other notifications, even if your iPhone isn’t nearby. However, whether you set up cellular on the Series 3 or not, it won’t affect the experience with these updated ski-focused apps.)
5 Ski Apps to Use with Apple Watch
The five apps below take advantage of the watchOS update on the Apple Watch Series 3.Snoww — Download Slopes — Download Squaw Alpine — Download Snocru — Download Ski Tracks — Download
“We love closing our rings — that’s the goal for [Apple Watch users],” said Curtis Herbert, developer of Slopes. “And if you’re hitting those hard runs as opposed to going lazily down a groomer, you should get more credit. And now you can.” Before the update, Herbert said Slopes would estimate your calorie burn based on how long you were on runs, but the app couldn’t tell the difference between mogul runs and groomers, which makes a very real difference to calorie burn. “Now with the Series 3 [update],” Herbert said, “it’s able to do those workouts in real time and get that data very accurately.”
Slopes is one of five ski apps that takes advantage of the recent watchOS update. I tested it for a half-day of skiing and it tracked all the basics, like top and average speed, vertical feet, total distance, ski time and calories burned. It also broke down my day, showing me how much time I spent skiing versus standing in lines. And, at the end of the day, it showed me which runs I hit — on a 3D rendering of the mountain, which was pretty cool. Slopes works on any ski mountain in the world, whether you’re in Colorado or Japan.
The Squaw Alpine app is another app that takes advantage of the update, but it’s different to Slopes because it’s tailored specifically for Squaw Valley skiers. When skiing at Squaw Valley and using the app, a simple glance down at the watch can tell you the name of the trail you just skied, its difficulty level and your current location on the mountain. If you’re on a chairlift, it’ll tell you how close you are to reaching the top of the lift.
When you open the app on your iPhone, it can show you a bunch of other things. It can show friends where each is on the mountain and exactly what percent of a lift or trail they’ve completed, which is pretty amazing for meeting up or locating lost friends. To foster competition, the app has a performance tracking leaderboard that shows the rankings of top skiers and snowboarders with the most vertical feet. (Users can filter the leaderboard by day, week or month, too, in case they aren’t present for a full season.) You can find live camera views of different parts of the mountain, too.
The Squaw Alpine app for Apple Watch is unique for now, but you can expect more like it in the future. Tracy Chang, VP of Digital Marketing at Squaw Valley, told me that the resort is part of a newly formed company called Alterra Mountain Company, consisting of 12 resorts all across America, including Mammoth, Deer Valley, Steamboat and Winter Park, and they are looking to expand the app across all the resorts in the coming years.
I only skied for one day with the updated Series 3 and I don’t think it made me a better skiing. It doesn’t teach form, after-all, but it really did change the overall experience. All my stats were right there on my wrist and I found myself checking them out after every run. I never had to take out my phone, save for a few photo ops, so there wasn’t any fumbling with zippers or pockets and I never had to worry about dropping my $1,000 iPhone X off the chairlift.
All these apps, Slopes and Squaw Alpine included, function as workout apps on the Series 3, so all my stats always appeared on the watch face — there was no scrolling involved. I didn’t have to pause and play the ski sessions over and over again either. And my ski workout — yes, skiing is a workout — was tracked and helped me close out my activity rings for the day. (People love tracking their rings.) It just worked. And, at the end of my day, I found myself retracing each of my three runs to see which I hit most and how long I took on each.
Essentially, the Apple Watch Series 3 helped elevate an already pretty perfect bluebird day on the slopes — which is near impossible to do.