Altimeter watch is a great gadget – when it works |

Altimeter watch is a great gadget – when it works

Catherine Lutz
Altimeter watches: Suunto on the left, Highgear on the right. (Mark Fox/Aspen Times Weekly)

“We’ve discovered a glitch in the watch you have,” said the Highgear representative on the phone. She paused, then told me that the brand-new Highgear Aerial altimeter watch – which has a ski chronograph that calculates your altitude gain and loss, vertical feet skied and speed of descent – resets itself every 3,300 vertical feet. About the vertical rise of Aspen Mountain.

So if you ski somewhere with little vertical rise – like Alabama – the watch might work, but it’s not exactly useful in the high Rockies.Being a techno-phobe, I’m used to spending several frustrating hours trying to make gadgets work (I can’t even figure out my boyfriend’s VCR). I wasn’t looking forward to figuring out this new altimeter watch, which would probably have collected dust for a year if I hadn’t agreed to write this gear review.

Actually, I did use a Suunto altimeter watch pretty religiously for one ski season (only because I got it as a gift), and loved it. I found that I’d skied something like a million vertical feet (or maybe it was three?) over the course of a season, which sounds really cool but isn’t that hard when you consider that one top to bottom on Snowmass is more than 4,000 feet. It was also fun to point out to my ski companions that our average rate of descent was 280 feet per minute, and to see how many runs it’d take to get 20,000 vertical feet.That watch, which I still have (collecting dust in a drawer), has other handy features like a barometer, stopwatch, compass and heart rate monitor (which I never used because I couldn’t figure out the attachment gadget). Some features didn’t work so well, like the thermometer, which always read in the 90s when the watch was on my wrist. I also had to frequently reset the base altitude, as any slight pressure change would mess up the internal altimeter.It isn’t called a “wristop computer” for nothing – after accumulating all that info you can download it to your computer and literally chronicle your training regimen and fitness progress. (Anyone more tech-savvy than I can figure out how to improve his workout.)

Still, an altimeter watch is a pretty fun toy for a ski fanatic to have, so I was excited to try the Highgear, which was an apparent improvement over the Suunto. It also costs $135, compared to $450 for the Suunto X6HR (I’m sure the latter had more bells and whistles but I didn’t get that far in the manuals).When I skied with the Highgear watch, and the information didn’t record properly, I blamed my ignorance of all things technical – and wanted to bang my head on the side of the gondola in frustration. Luckily, this time, I was vindicated.(Note: Officials at Highgear promise a properly functioning Aerial will be on the market by next ski season. Highgear and Suunto watches are available at the Ute Mountaineer and Bristlecone Sports.)

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