By Ross Werland, Tribune Newspapers
January 1, 2014
Name: UClear HBC220 Force Snow
What it is: A helmet-based communications system for skiers, boarders, snowshoers, etc.
How it works: Slide the two earpieces into the earflap pockets of your ski helmet (or attach with provided Velcro). Charge the Bluetooth controller, and sync it with your cellphone. Use voice commands to make or receive calls, or simply use the buttons on the device, which attaches to the side of your helmet. Voice commands are very handy, however, while wearing thick ski gloves. The device also lets you connect via intercom with as many as nine other UClear users, with one-to-one range of 0.4 miles. But frankly, on a ski hill, I might not be that close to another skier in my party; I'd need the cellphone. You also can listen to your stored music.
The good: The most remarkable piece of this equipment is the boomless microphone. I must confess, I didn't test this on a ski hill but instead out running in my neighborhood on a windy night. I was amazed that my wife could hear me during a phone call — or that I could hear her — with the wind rushing by. Clear as could be, she said. UClear says the technology was developed for the military; I'd say whoever developed it did good work. Before the call, I listened to music, which also was quite clear; because it emanates from your earflaps, you would still be able to hear an out-of-control skier screaming as he approaches from behind. All in all, it's very easy to set up and use — meaning minutes, not hours.
The bad: It's not cheap, but it's worth it. Also, there's the drawback of being connected to the outside world when all you want to do is be alone with the hill. I could imagine debating over where to meet for lunch instead of enjoying skiing.
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