Ringing in your ears
Last season, helmet sound systems moved from being a novel idea to a concept widely adopted by helmet manufacturers. This year, audio systems drowned out all other talk, and manufacturers at SIA suggested that sound systems are now a must for any brand that wants to be a serious player.
What surprised us is that safety didn't seem to be a big issue as we talked with manufacturers at SIA. As we examined an endless stream of audio devices, we picked up almost no conversations concerning the risks of skiing or snowboarding while using a cell phone or MP3 player. We're not passing judgment on these devices just yetâ€¦but it's interesting that very few people are voicing concerns. We did speak with a Boeri employee who said the company "was still a little skeptical" about jumping headlong into the audio craze. "Our focus has always been safety," he said. "We're not saying, 'Don't (use an audio system),' But maybe it's something to be used on the lift rather than on the hill."
OK, enough noise. On to products we thought stood out:
Leedom introduced its Soundtracks technology, which is a removable piece that wraps around the neck and plugs into an audio source, such as an MP3 player. It's available on three helmets: the Heckler, Prophet and Vandal. The new Heckler ($110) is also a good example of another continuing trend -- improved ventilation. These days, a helmet might contain a variety of venting features that make it more adjustable and comfortable in a wider range of climates. With two mesh vents, eight plug vents and three slide vents, the Heckler demonstrates this versatility.
With regard to audio trends, Giro has updated its sound with the new TuneUps II system. Available on several helmets such as the new G10, TuneUps II includes a Y-split audio cord (called Link) that lets you plug into an audio player and cell phone at the same time. The G10 with TuneUps II retails for $149.99.
Pro-Tec has a similar product -- Audio Force Relay Ear Pads -- which also allows the wearer to work an MP3 and cell phone simultaneously. Audio Force Relay is compatible with several helmets, such as the B2 Snow, Mercenary, Descent and Stealth. The Stealth, by the way, is another example of where helmet ventilation is heading. It has a whopping18 vents, allowing a wide range of adjustments for all conditions.
K2 reports that it had a great response to its Black Hawk helmet introduced last year, and for 2005 it wired it with the new Baseline Audio Communication System (ACS). Ear pads integrated into the helmet plug into an MP3 player, two-way radio or cell phone. A person controls the system with buttons on the ear pads, so it's possible to turn down music or answer a call without removing gloves or digging into a pocket to find an electronic device. The Baseline ACS sells separately for $50.
Marker and Burton have also launched helmets that accommodate MP3 players and cell phones, but they've gone one step further. Each has a helmet that incorporates Bluetooth technology for wireless, hands-free phone use. Burton partnered with Motorola to produce three products -- a jacket, helmet and beanie -- that utilize Bluetooth, and the sound system in each product can be removed and used as a stand-alone device. Marker's wireless Audiorama system is compatible with its M3 and M2 helmets. With a nod to safety concerns, the Audiorama also has a jack for an Ortovox transceiver.