On a cold, windy day on the mountain, there’s nothing worse than having to pull a folding trail map out of your pocket to plan a snowboarding route.
MOD LIVE, by Recon Instruments, appeared to present a technological solution to the problem. The device fits inside certain brands of ski googles, with a small screen viewable in the lower-right corner that displays pertinent information.
It takes about an hour to fully charge the battery, then you strap the weather-proof remote control to your arm and away you go.
I took the MOD LIVE with me on a recent trip to a pair of ski resorts in Wyoming. Once I had the Bluetooth enabled, the device automatically detected whether I was on the mountain at Jackson Hole, or at Grand Targhee, another hill about an hour’s drive away.
With the remote, which is well designed and easily used while wearing a thick pair of gloves, I scrolled through the menu of options and selected “navigation” to activate the GPS.
My numeric co-ordinates were pinpointed, but the display did not pull up resort trail maps. The screen showed the type of terrain (brown for open land, green for trees, black for chairlift lines) rather than the names of the runs. If I got stuck or lost and had to call for help, I suppose the co-ordinates would be useful information for the rescue team, but I failed to see the everyday practicality on the hill.
This seemed like a major oversight. It's the function I was most excited to use.
I raised the issue with a spokesperson for Recon, and I was told that resort maps “are indicated on the Google map as red snow flakes – users can click on them to display the resort map.”
Unfortunately, when I received the test unit, it did not come with instructions. This function was not intuitive. I had tried clicking on various parts of the maps to no effect.
And if you happen to visit a ski resort that's not already pre-loaded on the device, you're out of luck: trail maps, at this stage, cannot be downloaded.
Among its other features, MOD LIVE enables you to track your speed, hang time, amount of vertical achieved, altitudes reached, and temperatures experienced. I learned that I ride pretty fast (up to 60 km/h) and that I fail to jump high enough to proudly share the results with others.
Unfortunately, I had difficulty getting the unit to reset itself after each run. One day, it recorded 'Run 0' and 'Run 1,' and no others, despite the fact I rode up and down the mountain dozens of times.
“The run algorithm determines the number of runs based on the elevation data,” the spokesperson told me when I asked what might have gone wrong. “If the elevation raises above a certain threshold, the unit knows the user is going for another run.”
These were big mountains, and new runs should easily have been detected.
MOD LIVE also has “phone” and “music” menus, but at this time the functions are only available for Android users, and with a BlackBerry I was unable to test them. There’s no speaker or microphone, but the phone settings allow you to see when calls and texts are coming in, and the music section enables you to access your library without having to take your device out of your pocket.
In theory, there's a lot to like about this product. The available options are a nice mix of the fun and practical, and while having an easy-to-read screen embedded in a pair of goggles when you're barrelling down a mountain sounds like a recipe for disaster, you don't even notice it unless you consciously look down at it.
(A word of advice: Don't try to check your speed when you're aiming to top 60 km/h.) But MOD LIVE has its drawbacks. I couldn't justify switching smartphones to improve its functionality, I had major issues with a few key features, and I found that when I didn't regularly turn off the display, the battery failed to last the day.
This is a device with a lot of promise, and I look forward to a ready-for-prime-time version, though at the moment it's better suited to early adopters and obsessive stat geeks.