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Ski, Ski, Ski

Be Your Own Warren Miller

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So skis are fatter this winter. They look cooler if you like zombies or pimps on your boards. Snowboard bindings are easier to get into. Onesies are back.

It doesn't matter, if you want to take your winter sports to a new level this winter, millions of people are waiting at their computer monitors to see you pimped out like Spiderman riding two surfboards down the greens and blues of Bogus. It's Idaho's "Helmet Cam Meets YouTube" winter.

"It's the coolest thing since sliced bread for new technology that's out in the market for this winter," says a buyer for McU Sports in Boise and who is always on the lookout for new gear.

Extreme athletes have been strapping miniature cameras to their heads for years with some breathtaking results. Pioneered by skydivers, the view of ski or bike descents can be just as cool. Or it can be nauseating, depending on the cameraman's neck stability.

But the extreme sport documentary is getting more user friendly with Oregon Scientific's ATC-2000 Action Helmet Camera, on the shelves at McU's and at ski shops across the West this winter.

The ATC-2K is a self-contained digital video camera that records 30 frames per second while strapped to your helmet (or handlebars, steering wheel, knee ... dog's collar).

Professional extreme videographers use more expensive security cameras, sometimes called "lipstick cameras," which connect via cables to a separate video recorder. With Oregon Scientific's version of the helmet cam, there are no wires. The camera records right onto an SD memory card, the same kind you find in many digital cameras. So you can download video to your computer and upload it to everyone on the planet (in theory) in a matter of minutes.

"Companies have been trying to pull this off for years," said Chad Lancour, a helmet cam hobbiest from Mount Shasta, California, who runs helmetcameracentral.com with his brother Ryan Lancour.

The Oregon Scientific camera, an upgrade of last year's ATC-1000 that captures 640 x 480 VGA resolution, is not pretty enough for professional movie making, Lancour says, and he has concerns about battery life in cold weather.

But it's great for capturing footage for the Web or for personal use, he says. Anybody can strap this thing on and push the button. But it takes practice to do it well.

"It's really boring to watch helmet cam footage if you just strap it on your head and just go ski," Lancour said. "If you go out and become the cameraman and you follow someone through the trees on a powder day and you show that footage to someone, they get excited about it."

One day this month, there were 678 videos tagged with the words "helmet" and "cam" on YouTube.com, the video-sharing Web site that Google just bought for a bit more than a season pass at Sun Valley. Many of the short clips show the cameraman following a snowboarder for about 10 seconds, and then fade into an extreme close-up of the snow. Others show kids grinding and crashing again and again and again to a bad soundtrack.

Lancour has a few tips for making better movies.

The cameraman should go in front, with the camera mounted backwards, pointed uphill. The "actor" then follows close, tearing it up in the powder.

"By far this is the most stellar video perspective out there," he says. "Who wants to look at someone's ass?"

Good point, unless you ski with Shakira.

And do some editing, Lancour says. The Lancour brothers run all their video through a Japanese image stabilization program, but he said the name of the software is a trade secret.

Viosport, which sells more advanced helmet camera systems, also has an entry-level "Tony Hawk" model geared for kids. And Samsung makes a sports camcorder that comes with a lipstick cam and is quite a bit more advanced (and pricey) than the ATC-2000. But Oregon Scientific offers a unique camera for $129.99 plus the cost of a memory card, just as the personal video scene is getting big.

Klotz at McU's can see it being used for ski instruction (you can plug the camera right into a television and watch whatever is on the card).

A buddy proposed putting it on his dog for a day. I was going to see if it would work through the smoky haze at the Neurolux one night, but could not get my hands on a demo model.

That means you won't see me with a camera strapped to my head, on- or off-piste this winter. And I better not see you coming at me with one. But I am looking for a pair of used climbing skins and a vintage down jacket.