Skiing and snowboarding are not exactly the most affordable sports out there. If you want to hit the slopes on a regular basis, you’ll have to shell out a mountain of cash for skis, boots, bindings and other gear – not to mention the sky-high cost of lift tickets nowadays.
One of the best investments that you can make is in a good watch. Some newer models can give your exact location and altitude on the mountain. Some, like the Timex Expedition WS4, also have temp and barometer to warn you of changing weather conditions which is a great safety feature to have right on your wrist.
Smartwatches are becoming even more popular with the recent avalanche of apps dedicated to skiing and snowboarding that can track everything from total descent to the number of runs you’ve done in a day. The Garmin Fenix 5X Plus is the most advanced sports smartwatch we’ve seen to date with its heart rate monitor, topo maps and Pulse Ox Acclimation. This wrist-based Pulse Oximeter sensor provides estimated blood oxygen saturation levels which is an especially useful feature for extreme skiing where you’re adjusting to higher altitudes.
There are a lot of great brands to choose from, and these days, more and more smartwatches are keeping skiers’ needs in mind.
Below is a list of some of today’s best watches for skiing and snowboarding—from entry-level models to high-end brands you can splurge on. If you’re thinking of buying your first ski watch, or want to upgrade, this article has got you covered.
What To Look For:
GPS is one of the most useful features on a watch for mountain sports. Finding map coordinates and knowing exactly where you are on the map is really useful for meeting up on the mountain, finding your favorite back bowl and also could be a life-saving device to have on your wrist.
Hopefully, it will never come to needing GPS for that, but it is comforting to know (maybe even more so for loved ones back at the bottom of the slopes) that you always know where you are and can avoid getting lost.
If you don’t want to invest in expensive GPS watches, there are common features on watches for outdoor mountain sports go by the acronym ABC—Altimeter, Barometer, and Compass, all built to handle extreme weather conditions, which is why they are excellent for skiing and other mountain adventures like snowboarding. The barometer is useful for detecting atmospheric pressure readings and changes
Another important feature of a ski watch to consider is readability. You’d want a watch which would allow you to see in weather conditions even if you’re wearing ski goggles, for instance.
Watches with the ABC feature are durable and can be used while wearing thick clothing and gloves.
Heart rate monitors are also extremely helpful, especially to those with medical conditions or if you are doing backcountry skiing, hike-in or skinning up the mountain. With the combination of high altitude and intensity, many suggest keeping an eye on HR. Those who don’t, however, this still may be useful watch feature off the mountain just to have a this for a more efficient and healthier workout.
Here are some of the watches that you should take a closer look at.
Best Ski & Snowboarding Watches
Timex Expedition WS4
If this is your first time buying a watch for skiing this is the model to look at the Timex, the Expedition WS4.
This is the first ABC watch from Timex and has a widescreen format with an analog display which makes it easy to read.
Some of the most basic features, aside from the ABCs, include a thermometer, an activity review mode, timer, an option to have two time zones at a time, and an INDIGLO night light.
You can also view the time in two modes–digital and analog.
Please note, avoid confusing this with the more basic version of the Timex Expedition that sells for a fraction of the cost but does NOT include an Altimeter or Temperature which is why it’s so cheap. It’s not a bad option for an outdoor watch, but we do not recommend this cheaper model as a ski watch because of the lacking features.
It does not have smartphone integration, but Timex really put a lot of work in the functions and user interface.
In terms of size, this clearly has a big screen and strap, but the watch itself is surprisingly thin and light.
The WS4 is often compared with Casio Pathfinder watch, which we look at next.
Casio Men’s Pathfinder Triple Sensor
If you’re looking for a non-smart option that is good value for money, the Casio’s Pathfinder Sports Watch is worth a closer look.
This new model is not only more energy efficient, but it’s also 95% slimmer than previous models.
Aside from the necessary ABCs, two things that make this watch stand out are the price are the weight and price tag.
The Casio Pathfinder Triple Sensor weighs only 2.12oz. The world time display also allows you to easily look for different time zones, making this watch ideal for those who travel frequently.
The sunrise/sunset display feature is a handy feature for skiing and climbs, and the water resistance feature allows up to 330ft, so this one also works very well for non-ski activities such as snorkeling or swimming.
One of the unique features of this watch is it’s solar powered. There is a built-in solar panel that recharges the battery using any light source, so you won’t need to buy batteries or worry about it going dead while you’re out on the mountain. Many users have praised its toughness and durability, saying how well it holds up despite extremely harsh conditions.
Considering some of the higher priced Sunnto and Garmin models on the list, this Casio watch is great value for money.
It doesn’t connect to your phone via apps, but it has all the outdoor essentials that you’ll need.
SUUNTO Spartan Sport HR
Suunto is a well-known Finnish company that continues to innovate its products for all types of adventurers. If you’re looking for a multisport watch in the mid-range price point, this is something that you should definitely consider.
The Suunto Spartan Sport HR watch, (link to both models on Amazon – with and without heart rate monitor feature).
This watch boasts a color touch screen, has all the skiing essentials mentioned above: a good GPS system, a bright screen which means there’s excellent visibility outdoors (especially in direct sunlight), and built-in altimeter, barometer, and compass.
This watch is a great investment for people that not only ski but also do regular outdoor activities, as it allows users to record their progress in a wide array of activities like running, cycling, hiking, swimming, and even triathlon and obstacle course racing.
The Spartan HR is compatible with the Suunto Movescount app letting you track your progress, plan routes, and get creative with the photo and movie clips.
A unique feature of this watch is the heart rate sensor, which makes use of the well-known PerformTek biometric technology.
Another is the recovery display, which gives a suggestion on your recovery time based on your workout–basically something that will tell you how many days you need to rest before you start working out again.
Here is a quick demo of all the features of the Spartan Sport HR if you want to take a closer look:
Garmin Fenix 3
A trusted smart and sports watch, Garmin continues to produce some of the best technologies today.
The Garmin Fenix 3 is not just excellent for running–it has swimmers and skiers in mind as well.
There is a ski-board mode that allows the user to easily monitor distance and speed covered.
This model is arguably one of the best watches for skiing and snowboarding, thanks to its Swim Profile and Ski/Board Mode.
All you need to do is start the watch’s Ski/Board Mode and go on with your day.
There is no need to activate anything when you go up the lift, as it has an auto-pause while on the lift and records descents. In between (say, when you’re having lunch or taking a break), you can pause it to save the battery. Once your day of skiing is done, simply stop the watch and look at your logs.
Considering a state-of-the-art GPS and ABC features (altimeter, barometer and compass), this watch still has excellent battery life. It has about 20 hours in training and GPS mode and could last for weeks if you use fewer features. The company says that the battery life with the GPS is up to 16 hours.
Call, texts and email notifications are also displayed with a preview, so it is very easy to see your messages. This device also gives reminders if you have been inactive for an extended period of time.
Having said this, it is also worth pointing out that this watch does not have a touchscreen feature. The user controls using clear buttons, which are excellent for those who find it difficult to tap the screen due to factors like sweat and moisture.
If you are looking for an even lighter and more durable model (and have some more money to spare) there is a Fenix 3 Sapphire Edition if you’d like to have a heart rate monitor, a scratch-proof sapphire face that’s extra tough and durable, and an additional metal strap.
In terms of size, this one’s a bit thicker than the 920XT, but is thinner than the Fenix 2. The Fenix 3 also has a fabric strap that will allow you to wear the watch over your jacket, which makes it very convenient when you’re out in the snow.
Here is a video review of the Fenix 3 being used in a real-life using in mountain conditions:
Garmin Fenix 5X Plus
If you have the budget and are into the latest and greatest gear, you’ll want to check out the premium Garmin Fenix 5X Plus.
While the price tag will scare away many shoppers, those of you looking for the most up to date features in a high-end smartwatch will appreciate what the 5X plus has to offer.
Being outdoors, the battery performance is a key feature to consider and this is where the 5X excels with a life of up to 20 days in smartwatch mode. But the impressive thing about the battery is the 13 hours in GPS mode while playing music. A full day of skiing while listening to music from sunrise to sunset is even more than most hard-core skiers will be needing.
Advanced fitness features:
Heart rate: Garmin Elevate heart rate technology allows you to monitor your estimated heart rate without wearing a chest strap.
Pulse Ox: As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, another feature that sets the 5X apart from the competitions is the wrist sensor to measure blood oxygen levels. While recreational skiers may not have a need for this, backcountry skiers or hard-core athletes that are “skinning-up” the hill, where your heart rate can max out, being able to check heart rate and blood oxygen could be a great health and safety feature to have on your wrist.
Trend line TOPO maps”: Using Garmin Connect data can help you find and follow the best trails and routes. The 5X is also compatible with Garmin’s Skiing App Professional.
Again, the 5X plus is one of the most expensive watches on the market for the serious skier it definitely worth considering the extra investment.
If you’re looking for a relatively affordable watch take a look at this Suunto Core.
First things first: Do not buy this watch if you think you will be needing GPS.
If you need exact altitude and location you’ll want to go for a GPS watch like the Suunto Spartan Sport.
However, the watch does give you altitude and barometer change w/ a storm alert, and compass at a cheaper price than most other watches on the list. On our tests, the altimeter worked fairly close (within a few hundred feet of a 14K peak) but again it’s not totally accurate and can also be affected by weather.
There are, however, lots of pros that can outweigh this. For instance, this Suunto ski watch has a wider range thermometer (-5F to 140F) tells accurate temperature readings. The sunrise and sunset feature is also extremely useful, too. It’s also waterproof up to 100 feet.
This also doesn’t require any fancy batteries, as it uses a CR2032 battery, which is easily available anywhere, and the battery lasts for about one year.
If you’re looking for a multifunction ski watch with a minimalist design, this one might be one of your best bets.
Many owners have expressed satisfaction on its durability–having no issues despite daily wear and exposure to both extremely hot and cold temperatures.
Apple Watch Series 3
An Apple watch may not be the first thing that would come to mind when talking about sports and ski watches, but recent developments show that the brand is determined to compete with the big brands with its updated technology.
Earlier this year, Apple announced that the Apple Watch Series 3 (operating system of watchOS 4.2) is now able to track skiing and snowboarding activities such as vertical descents, calorie measurements, and number of total runs via its activity app. There is an LTE option, which means that you can use the watch on its own–no need to use your phone.
The Series 3 will know when you’re on a ski lift or going downhill. Combining GPS and altimeter measuring, the new features for Series 3 includes updates by apps Slopes, Squaw Alpine, Snoww App, Ski Tracks, and Snocru.
The Slopes App, for instance, has features like providing heart rate, distance, vertical feet, and is able to detect periods when you’re idle. For more features like satellites, you can update the app for an extra fee. An interesting feature of the Snow App is the performance tracker that allows you to compete with friends and other users who also have the app installed on their devices. Snow also allows users to go hands-free.
If you are considering the Apple Series 3, you may want to check out this very detailed description of all the different models, it does a good job clarifying the different cases materials, face finishes and other options you can choose when selecting the watch model.
Casio G-Shock GW9200 Riseman
This G-Shock Riseman model does have altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature but does not have a compass.
Like the Pathfinder Triple Sensor above, this watch is also solar powered, which means you don’t have to worry about it conking out on the slopes.
You can also turn off the LCD when you’re sleeping or during periods when there’s no light. The backlight (the ‘G’ button) is also conveniently placed below (6 o’clock), and the buttons are easy to press even when you’re wearing gloves.
Other features include a thermometer, water resistance of up to 200 meters, shock resistance, world time that includes dozens of cities in 29 countries, snooze feature, and a countdown timer. Lots of owners can also attest to its durability, saying that this can take a beating and still work like a charm.
The temperature sensor needs about 30-40 minutes to completely adjust, so if you’d like an accurate reading, make sure that it’s not getting overheated by your own body heat in enclosed spaces (inside a glove)
Our Top Picks
The best watch for beginners: Casio Men’s Pathfinder Triple Sensor
While this one’s not the cheapest one on this list, the Casio Men’s Pathfinder Triple Sensor watch is an excellent entry-level smartwatch that will last you for years. If you’re going skiing, this has everything that you’ll need–the ABCs, most importantly.
While it does not have smartphone features, it has all the basics that you’ll need in a multisport watch.
It’s also cost-effective, as it’s solar-powered–no need to spend more money replacing the batteries.
The best watch for experienced smartwatch users: Garmin Fenix 3
If you’re considering purchasing this watch, chances are you are already knowledgeable on multisport watches, or probably already have one. Garmin is one of the top brands in outdoor multisport watches today, and the Fenix is hands down, one of its best releases yet.
The only thing that might set you back is the hefty price tag, but it’s a watch worth investing in, considering all the features that won’t only help you while you’re out doing skiing or other sports, but also email, texts, and other alerts. This Garmin ski watch is an upgrade worth making if you will be able to utilize all or most of the features.