For years I’ve been wary of amplified “ambient” music in the backcountry. I usually prefer the natural sounds of mountains, as well as the ability to hear “wumphs” and other important signals.However, we at Wildsnow are no strangers to technology (something to do with running a website). I’ve recently been won over to occasionally carrying a bit more tech in the bc in the form of a little audio speaker. After a bit of research I picked up a WAE speaker last summer. The speaker’s designed for the outdoors, with good battery life and a water resistant housing.
Of course evening tunes have long been a staple of many a hut trip. I’ve had a few über-cheap mini speakers over the years, and have also used some friend’s nicer ones on occasion. I’ve put quite a bit of use on the WAE over the past few months. During the summer I used it for some camping and climbing trips, and even around the house and in the yard while working on various things. On our thanksgiving hut trip on Rogers Pass having quality sound proved to be an excellent diversion when the sun went down around 3:45.
An unexpected use I’ve found is while hiking. I avoid playing tunes on the speaker when there’s any chance of other groups in the area, as I’ve been on the receiving end of that too many times. However, on a few long de-proaches it’s been indispensable. When you’re still not back at the car at midnight, a little music is a welcome boost to the morale. I’m convinced it at least doubles my downhill walking speed. It at least makes my partners faster, as they run from my sometimes poor choice of music.
The WAE is a great unit. It’s water resistant, and it’s still bumpin’ after receiving more than it’s fair share of rain and snow. It’s got a Bluetooth connection as well as a analog line-in jack. I’ve ended up using the Bluetooth more; it works well. The range only seems to be about 10-15 feet, however it works great for throwing the speaker in your backpack and having your phone in the pocket. The sound is surprisingly good. it’s comparable to other high-end speakers I’ve seen that are similarly sized.
The WAE speaker works on a rechargable battery, something I was initially worried about. I generally like things that have replaceable batteries; not only can they be easily swapped, but they also provide instant spare batteries for more important items, like beacons and headlamps. While the WAE doesn’t help with that, the rechargeable battery has impressive capacity. It lasts several days of playing; I normally only charge it every few trips. As a test I left the speaker on full blast in my house and it lasted over 10 hours before I finally turned it off. Unfortunately there’s no battery indicator (besides one that shows it’s almost dead).
The WAE’s on switch is a small slider with three settings: on, off, and mute. This switch is the only gripe I have with the device. It takes very little force to move the switch, and it often gets bumped from “on” to “mute.” This simply requires a bit more finesse, but is a glaring inconsistency on an otherwise very well thought out device.
The WAE speaker is an effective way to bring a little high-tech convenience along on a ski trip without much weight or hassle. The shock and water resistance are key; they make it much more usable in the backcountry than some other similar speakers.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.