Buying a GPS/HRM Sport Watch – The Basics

by FasterSkier

The functions are many on our wrist-worn data collecting training tools. And in some ways, the putative cause for that post-training bliss might be the very data stored on that GPS/HRM device when uploaded to your training analysis app. Maybe you notched a PR, or simply logged 10,000 feet of vertical gain during that offseason ski tour. Or … you simply like pinpointing precisely where your heart rate spiked during that pre-Birkie time trial.

Whatever your fancy, these watches marketed towards backcountry adventurers, endurance athletes, and training log devotees provide data for real-time feedback and week to week, month to month, and annual progression trends when it comes to training.

Like many commodities in the outdoor sport industry, brand loyalty can be divisive. The bottom line is that many companies make high functioning and reliable wrist-worn devices to track distance and speed with GPS and collect heart rate data. These devices come in many flavors; some geared more towards runners, and others towards those who demand an altitude reading and GPS waypoints for mountain navigation.

Andy Newell, founder of Nordic Team Solutions and longtime World Cup skier, had this to say about using a GPS/HRM watch for cross-country ski training.

“I use a HR monitor but almost never use any GPS function,” Newell wrote about how he uses his sport watch. “All I need is a watch that can time and let me know how many minutes I am in each zone. I turn off the GPS because then I don’t need to charge the watch as often. If I’m in the backcountry I just use an app like Gaia. I think for the most part elite xc skiers do not use GPS too often with their ski training because resistance is such a huge variable on snow and can even be variable on the roads depending on the conditions. It’s the same reason why skiers log our training in hours and minutes rather than miles or kilometers like a cyclist or runner.”

We asked Newell to query his collegiate group of skiers training in Bozeman, MT. this summer about what type of device they use and the basics about their functionality. Before we expand the discussion, here are the results.

What Type of heart rate monitor do you use? Please indicate brand and model.

  • Suunto Spartan sport
  • Garmin Premium HR Monitor-Soft Strap
  • Garmin Fenix 5s plus watch with latest Triathlon strap
  • Garmin Forerunner 735xt
  • Polar strap with Apple watch
  • Suunto Ambit 3 peak and sport
  • Garmin HRM-Run (HRM4)

In your opinion what is the best function of the watch? i.e. heart rate, GPS, multi sport, heart rate zone guidelines.

  • Heart rate and GPS
  • Heart Rate
  • The watch features many different types of sports and activities, it can track HRV, and it has the ability to be fully customized to fit the needs of most any athlete.
  • Very easy display to look at interval time and heart rate.
  • Multi sport
  • The best function of my watch (Suunto Spartan) is that it monitors my sleep. I am able to see my average resting heart rate, the amount of hours I have slept and how many of those hours were ‘deep sleep.’ This is a tool that helps me monitor my recovery from training load.
  • Heart rate and GPS

Do you download and look at your heart rate data? Yes or No. If yes, please indicate how you use that data. i.e. Keep track of interval data, race data, keep a training log.

  • Yes, to see time at each level and how quickly I recover.
  • I will look at my max and average HRs for interval sessions/races and put them in my training log. I also record a morning HR in my log, but take it by hand. I typically do not download and look at the graphs, though.
  • Yes I look to see what my max heart rate is and my average heart rate at the end of the workout.
  • Yes I look at what levels I was skiing at during the session
  • Yes. I use that data to determine if I was in the proper zone for specific workouts. I also record my Max HR during races and time trials in my training log, out of curiosity, taking the conditions into consideration, but to see how hard I push myself.
  • No, I haven’t in the past but I’ve started to now. I usually just look after the workout to see how hard I was working and if that correlates with how I was feeling. I’m still trying to understand it all 🙂

If your watch could do something super rad that it currently does not do… what would that be?

  • Have music downloaded on it.
  • Dispense peanut M&Ms.
  • Be somehow able to measure lactate.
  • My watch does everything I need it to do so I would have to go with voice commands.
  • I would want it to show my current speed which it does not.
  • Play music/connect to Bluetooth headphones.
  • My watch is super sick already!! Not sure if I have any ideas.

As Newell stated, if a watch has HRM capabilities and the ability to time duration in each specific heart rate training zone, you should be good to go. The GPS features come in handy if you want data on distance traveled, total ascent or descent, and speed. Or if you tend to be the type of athlete that mixes adventuring with traditional “training”, the GPS can be a precision navigation device. As a basic yet functional training tool, GPS is not a necessary condition. However, if you don’t mind charging your watch more often, the added bonus of GPS data is a nice feature: it allows for proper analysis of pacing strategy during training or racing.

“Both are nice info to have, but the main focus today is duration,” Øyvind B. Sandbakk explained about having athletes collect data on kilometers skied or duration of the training session. Sandbakk is the managing director at the Centre for Elite Sports Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim and the head of research and development at the Norwegian Olympic Sports Centre (Olympiatoppen).

Like Newell’s athletes, we also asked Sandbakk what feature he would like to see incorporated into sport watches.

“From normal sport watches they use GPS for speed in a given terrain, and heart rate for indications of metabolic intensity,” wrote Sandbakk. “Ideally, we should also have integrated Inertial movement units (IMUs) in the future, that can detect what sub-technique they use and temporal patterns (cycle rate and length). This would also allow us to indicate the external power they are using (watts).”

Style options are many for GPS/HRM watches. The mainstays of the industry are Polar, Garmin, and Sunnto. You can add Apple, Coros, and Fitbit among others to the list. It’s worth taking time to determine your budget and desired features. For backcountry skiers/mountaineers, the added bonus of a barometer is nice for more accurate altitude readings. That comes at a cost. Which reminds us that these watches can be expensive.

A basic HRM can be found in the $50-$60 range. Adding in a GPS and more functionality can push the wrist-bling into the $250-$300 range. Add in features like a thermometer, safety and tracking, and music storage to name a few and it’s easy to launch into the $400-$600 stratosphere.

For runners, having built in GPS is handy for speed and pacing data. For trail running specifically, here is how Carbondale based FasterSkier writer Rachel Perkins uses her sports watch.

“I pay a lot more attention to mileage and vertical gain than I do during the ski season, but I rely mostly on HR for pacing since mile splits are pretty irrelevant,” Perkins said. “On roads, I rarely pay attention to HR just because pace and effort are so much more directly correlated.”

When considering a watch, the standard is to shy away from relying on an optical sensor HRM. The optical sensor sits on the underside of the watch and makes direct contact with the wrist. Even with technological advances, optical sensors still do not rival the accuracy of using a traditional chest strap to measure heart rate. (Trail Runner Magazine ran a solid story on why optical HRMs still struggle with accuracy.)

“But here’s the big problem—the errors are not consistent,” David Roche wrote in Trail Runner about the inconsistent readings from wrist positioned optical HRM sensors. “If it was always 5% low or 5% high, we could use that information (you’re probably having flashbacks to the accuracy v. precision distinction from high-school science class). Instead, it’s all over the place, and since 5% is an average, sometimes it might read 190 or something that makes an athlete write a panicked entry in their training log.

“It’s kind of like Michael Cohen testimony. First it says one thing, then it says another, so even if it’s right one time, how can you trust it? In this analogy, I’m not sure if I’m CSPAN or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

Political preferences aside, not wearing a chest strap is handy, but for accuracy, the chest strap is the way to go.

If you are looking for a new sports watch and in need a deep dive review, D.C. Rainmaker is the best place to start.

The imagination can run wild when considering the possibilities of collecting data from our sport watches and becoming a more efficient and stronger skier. The type of IMU datasets Sandbakk hopes for may appear sooner than we think in the exploding marketplace for wearable fitness technology. But for now, if you are just entering the market and want specific heart rate data with no GPS functionality, a basic HRM may be all you need to track your training and improve. For parents shelling out cash for that motivated high school athlete, that might leave more money for new ski boots if that teen is hitting their growth spurt.

Brushes: when to use what and why

by Ian Harvey

    • After skiing and before hot waxing: brush out well using the Toko Copper Brush;

    • After hot waxing and scraping, for all waxes: brush out well using the Toko Copper Brush;

    • If using Blue (cold) waxes: finish by brushing out well using the Toko Horsehair Brush;

    • If using Red or Yellow (medium and warmer) waxes: finish by brushing using the Toko Nylon Polishing Brush;

    • If using topcoats such as JetStream Powder or Bloc: have a separate Nylon Polishing Brush specifically dedicated for brushing out JetStream.


That’s it! Just 3 brushes for hot waxing and 1 brush for JetStream.


There are two more brushes in the program which are the Combi Brush and the Nylon Brush.

The Combi Brush is a brush that is 1/2 copper and 1/2 nylon. It is simply a money saving option with a definite performance compromise as well. The Nylon Brush is very popular but I don’t use it personally. I think it is OK but doesn’t do anything particularly well. I prefer to use the brushes mentioned above.

The Copper Brush does everything that you want a metal brush to do (open up and clean the base, remove wax) but none of the things that you don’t want a metal brush to do (create “hair”).

The Horsehair Brush has fine but stiff bristles which are perfect for brushing out cold waxes. The bristles are fine enough to remove wax from the microstructure and they are stiff enough to remove hard waxes such as Blue quickly and easily.

The Nylon Polishing Brush also has fine bristles but is very soft and flexible. This brush removes less wax than the Horsehair brush and is perfect for finishing the warmer hot waxes and topcoats such as JetStream.

New or Freshly Stoneground Skis Preparation

by Ian Harvey

Fast skis are something special. Most skiers are emotionally attached to their fastest pair of skis because they are really worth something. Fast skis make a person more “fit” (faster) and they certainly make skiing more fun as well. New skis or freshly stoneground skis have the potential to be your “fastest skis ever”. Following this advice will give new skis the best chance possible to reach their potential.


First off, check the skis for blemishes, waves on the base, top sheet cracks, rough spots on the edges, or sidewall dents. Then inspect the base more carefully. Usually new skis or freshly stoneground skis look great, but sometimes they do not. A pair of skis that has whitish and hairy bases or that has more structure on the base than what is desired will simply not run in anything except for really fast conditions or perhaps fairly wet corn snow. If the condition of the ptex is not good, a correction needs to be made or the skis will simply not run well. When it comes to base structure, it is far better to have a structure that is fine and then add more by hand as needed than to have a pair of skis that only runs when conditions are very wet.

Consider where you are going to do most of your skiing (or where you want to have your “best” skis) and compare the base structure to the conditions that you expect to be skiing in. If there is more structure than you want, that is a problem. In that case, I would have the skis stoneground with a finer structure. If the structure looks good, then you’re good. If it is too fine, that is OK too as you can add structure by hand.

Once we have established that the skis are in good shape overall and that the base structure and condition is good, we have three objectives: to get as much wax into the base as possible, to replace this soft wax with a hard glide wax, and to remove micro hairs. Toko, Swix, and some other companies sell “base prep” waxes. These waxes are fine for working on skis in general, but it is a simple truth that no single wax has the properties necessary to accomplish these objectives.

To get as much wax into the base as possible, a very soft glide wax (for warm conditions such as Toko NF Yellow or even better Toko Cleaning and Hot Box Wax) is needed. The softer a glide wax is, the better it will go into the base. The soft wax will penetrate both deeper and at a higher percentage than a harder wax. This is why we apply 5 layers of a very soft glide wax scraping and brushing between each layer. Brush out with a copper brush. The scraping and brushing cleans and “opens” the base allowing more wax to enter. Use a sharp Plexiglas scraper and allow the wax to cool completely before scraping and brushing. Scraping a ski while the wax is warm not only takes wax out of the superficial layer of the base, but it also eradicates structure (which we may have just paid to have had put in). The damage done by a small mistake such as uneven pressure on the scraper or too much pressure on the scraper or a bigger mistake such as having the scraper dig into the base will be magnified when the base is warm (and soft).

If your bases don’t seem to be taking in any wax, you might want to have them stoneground. Sometimes by the time you get your skis, those same skis have been hanging around for a long time in warehouses. The base material might be hardened from oxidation. Soon after a ski base as been stoneground is when it is able to accept the most wax, so consider stonegrinding your skis if you don’t think they are taking wax like they should be.

The ski bases have now been well-penetrated by a soft glide wax. This is only a half of the job though. Many of us are familiar with the experience of having glide waxed our new skis 15-20 times with a soft wax only to find that after 5 kilometers of skiing our bases already looked white and unwaxed. This happens because the bases only had very soft wax in them. For this reason, the base material itself became very soft and was not dry friction resistant. Dry friction is especially created by skiing on sharp cold new snow which is commonly found in the first half of a ski season. Before skiing, we still need to utilize the soft wax that is in the base “holding the base open” on a micro level. If we replace this soft wax with a hard glide wax such as Toko NF Blue, the base will be hardened and more resistant to abrasion. We do not simply start with the hard glide wax because, by itself, it will not penetrate as well. We need the layers of the soft wax to get in there and “hold” things open.

Apply 2 layers of the hard glide wax. After each application, allow the wax to cool completely before scraping and brushing. These two layers will harden the base. Scraping and copper brushing out the blue will remove any remaining micro base hairs. Follow these 2 layers the wax of the day. Your skis are now ready to show you what they’ve got.

At this point, you have just started. Just as important but far more rewarding is the rest of the process. I have found LF Red to be a superb wax for skiing and waxing and making skis faster. So, the next step is to ski a lot and wax with LF Red between each time you go out!


Twin Skins


Hello, I’ve ordered a pair of new Fischer Speedmax Twin Skins. Could you advise on best products to clean and de-ice the kick zone? So far I see that Swix, Fischer and Rex all offer such products, usually a cleaner and de-icer, but I don’t know if one is better than the others.


I also have a new pair of Twin Skins. I really like them for my personal training purposes in tricky conditions where finding good wax would take a lot of time. The prep I have done is to simply use the prep package that came with the skis and applied it to the skins and skied the rest of the season. I was satisfied.

I have not used the Twin Skins for races, just training. So, I have not done any testing of the various “skin” prep products yet. You can use any brand prep product on any ski brand’s skins. The different skins may be of slightly different materials, lengths or densities, but are all set up with the same theory of providing kick and glide. So, experiment yourself (or with your buddies as a group) with the different skin prep products and use the one you like best. (I would not be surprised to find out that there is not a huge difference and best choice may be the most convenient from both an application standpoint and from an availability at your local shop.)

Note, I had last year’s Twin Skin model and used it all spring without any new daily prep and I enjoyed my skiing, especially the low maintenance aspect in spring klister conditions. After passing my pair from last year down, I’ll probably do the same thing with my new pair.


Joe, thank you for the response. I’ve also decided the Twin Skins are terrific for training but would not
likely race on them. You answered my biggest question which is how often do you need to prep themcand apparently the answer is “not much”. Good to know. I ski almost daily here in Colorado so less prep will be a time saver.


I have always thought in normal conditions I can wax with kick wax that is far better than the skins, even if I have over waxed and have some drag.

If you do mess around some with different prep products, let me know your feedback. In CO, you may have some friends or acquaintances who back country with skins on the way up and take them off for the earned turns on the way down. May be ask them if they do anything to their skins and if so, how often. I’d be interested in feedback from a person not reping a wax company.

– answered by Joe Haggenmiller

Sealed Bases

Q: My skate skis have some white/grey splotches on the base. Not the whole base but parts of it. I don’t have a Nordic Shop anywhere close to me, I bought these from a shop that’s about 5 hours away.. I have 2 good downhill shops close by, if I need to have them stoneground, will the downhill grinders work on nordic skis? I assume they’re the same, but don’t know. And if the shop can do them, what kind of grind should I have them do?


A: From what I see it appears as if your skis need a base refreshener. An alpine shop grinder can do Nordic skis but they should not do your skis as their first Nordic race skis. Nordic skis need to be ground with much less pressure than alpine skis.

So you need to ask them if they have done many Nordic race skis in the past and ask for a cold universal grind? Or you can ship your skis to one of the Nordic grinding specialists if you wish. Or you can try to do some base refreshing on your own.

I would advise you start with the brass, copper, metal brush method. Get the most aggressive of these brushes you have and start brushing the base with moderate aggression from tip to tail. You want to get under the overheated/melted base and open it up, basically tearing it open. Follow this with an aggressive coarse fibertex pad and repeat numerous times. Do a gentle metal scraping to cut off any hairs you have exposed. Follow this with a hot wipe of your softest wax. Repeat all this numerous times and see if the bases look top be improving. if it was a minor burn you should see improvement fast. If it was a major burn you will need much more work, perhaps even sandpaper method or best yet stonegrinding.

– Andy @ SkiPost


Yes. I actually did it and it helped a lot. I got rid of almost all of spots. I will try to get them ground next Winter in Lake Placid if I make it up there, but this really helped.

Thanks! Dan

About SkiPost

Cross-Country skiing’s community lodge. Where knowledge and stories are shared. The goal of SkiPost is to make the sport of Cross-Country skiing easier and more enjoyable for all who choose to participate. If you have questions on Cross-Country Skiing email us and visit

Enjoy Winter,
Andrew Gerlach
Director/Editor- SkiPost

Which Swenor Rollerski Is Best For Me?


For Classic, the Swenor Fibreglass is the most popular model – its medium size wheels roll over most rough pavement with ease and its shafts flex to make it feel like skiing on snow.

It you want the light weight roller skis and are on smooth pavement, go with laminated Carbonfibre model with small wheels.

If you want the mostly stability and a big wheel that rolls over the roughest pavement and even some loose gravel, go with the Fintech.

Swenor also has less expensive aluminum shaft options and Swenor Junior models.



Skate Elite with its laminated shaft is the most popular model. It feels like you are skiing on snow and you can even carve it around corners.

On a budget do with the lightweight aluminum Skate Long for experienced skiers or Skate for beginners.

10-14 year old can use the Swenor Skate Junior.

– Andy at SkiPost

Iron Temperature

I have heard from a number of people that our irons are not running hot enough. Fortunately this is NOT the case. The issue is that people are using infrared thermometers to measure the temperature of the bases of the irons. Infrared thermometers are great for measuring temperatures of things that are not shiny, but when there is any reflection involved, generally a temperature reading that is far too cool is the result. Stainless steel is especially famous for this issue. What actually ends up happening is that the infrared beam reflects and you get a reading of something in the room as compared to the iron base. All of the irons in the test were set for 160c (320F) as the question at hand was if they got hot enough.

Here is an example of the contrast:

These two images were sent to me as evidence of the iron not getting hot enough.

Here are the actual temperatures of the iron bases (two different irons that were sent back).

Here is a T8 iron reading. We know the T8s run slightly cool, so this is very good for an $80 iron!

This is the proper equipment for measuring the temperature of a base of an iron. It is a thermocoupler which is basically a digital thermometer that has a direct interface with the iron base eliminating any reflection. This is a scientific instrument that is both expensive and accurate.

Anyway, this wasn’t a bad exercise to have gone through as it had been a while since I checked the actual temperatures versus readouts.

Ian Harvey, TOKO