The new Oakley Airwave 1.5 has the potential to totally revolutionize the way skiers and snowboarders crash into things. Or at least avoid having awkward conversations with strangers on chairlifts.
It’s been more than a century since Scandinavian miners working in the Revelstoke region first brought the sport of downhill skiing to British Columbia, and no doubt their minds would boggle by even the most basic of snow goggles that provide eyes with comfortable protection from the elements. It’s tough to imagine what they would make of the next generation that give users everything from the ability to track their speed, altitude and location to text their buddies and listen to music.
Possibly the most amazing gizmo to hit the slopes since James Bond's handy Inflatable Jacket Survival Bubble back in The World Is Not Enough, the latest version of the Oakley Airwave has a tiny screen located below the wearer’s right eye that is integrated with GPS, Bluetooth and on-board sensors operated via a remote worn on the wrist like an old school watch.
Oakley has been associated with bleeding-edge technology ever since the clever product placement that had Scott “Cyclops” Summers sport a visor with their iconic oval logo back in the first X-Men movie.
But while Oakley gets most of the limelight, the actual computer technology behind the Airwave was created by Yaletown-based tech firm Recon Instruments, who first put out an early version called Transcend back in 2010. Unlike most wearable technology such as Apple Watch, DoucheTooth phones or the doomed Google Glass, Airwaves have the advantage of not making you like a total dork while wearing them. They basically look just like regular goggles. I was recently given the chance to take a pair for a test drive as part of a promotion for the revamped Sportchek store in Burnaby's Metrotown mall, which recently underwent a multi-million dollar makeover with giant flatscreens, interactive digital displays and assorted bells and whistles which turn the experience of shopping for sports equipment into something akin to visiting the Holodeck.
(It’s possible a similar outlet could be coming to Vancouver after it was announced the retail chain’s owner, FGL Sports, plans to take over the Chapters location on Robson Street after they close up shop next summer.)
But while they may look like normal goggles, you would probably want to activate them before heading to the hills because, as I discovered on a recent trip to Grouse Mountain, you’ll get some funny looks if you’re wearing goggles inside the chalet while staring and muttering at your smartphone as you try to synch them together. I never did manage to get the music player to work and can’t report on the sound quality but it seems odd there isn’t a headphone jack or obvious speakers. But everything else was pretty amazing.
The trick, obviously, is not to check the screen while you’re in action. Just as you shouldn't fiddle with your phone when behind the wheel, it’s an equally bad idea to look down to see how fast you’re going while tearing down steep moguls or, say, see how much airtime you’re getting before trying to stick your landing. There’s plenty of time for that sort of thing when back on a lift or after Après.
Whether you think goggles like these are a must-have gadget to make the already awesome experience of skiing/snowboarding even more so or the latest sad example of the entrenchment of an increasingly disconnected technocratic elite will probably depend on the contents of your wallet given they cost $650 before taxes.
Conditions were gross at Grouse they day I tried them out – plus 4 degrees Celsius with heavy rainfall – and it’s worth noting the Airwaves also performed perfectly fine for their primary purpose of helping me to see where I was going.