Heading into the great outdoors for our human-powered adventures usually starts with an internal combustion engine. Snowmobiles – here in Alaska we call them snowmachines – are a great way to get in some backcountry ice climbing or pack in some serious vert on your favorite powder boards. They are also pretty fun all by themselves. Backcountry snowmobiling comes with the same risks as any travel in avalanche-prone terrain, maybe more because you can cover a lot more ground, and of course the fun stuff is often sitting at perfect avalanched angles.
Cardo Systems built a solid reputation producing bluetooth-based wireless communications gear for motorcycles. They've expanded into biking and now comes the Scala Rider G4 PowerSet for snowmobiles. It's basically the same setup as the G4 motorcycle version, with two important differences: first, the mic is on a flexible cord instead of a fixed boom, a better solution for full-face helmets. That's great, 'cause it will work just as well for ATVs, downhill biking or any pursuit where you're wearing full facial protection. It can be used on motorcyle helmets as well by mounting the mic off to the side and switching the mode to "motorcycle" using the PC software. The second qualifier is that the snowmobile runs its own software, so you can't apply the patches for the motorcycle version. Not a big deal, the fact that you get updated software at all is pretty cool.
The waterproof and dustproof G4 installs easily, either clipping to the bottom of the helmet or gluing on – we recommend just using the screw-on clip so you can easily swap helmets if you need to. The thin speaker discs velcro to the inside of the helmet, once you're charged up you're good to go, after you READ THE MANUAL! Seriously, do it, and load up the software to become familiar with the powerful customization features so you at least know what's there.
Once you're dialed in you can use the built-in bluetooth wireless connectivity to easily make/take/reject calls from phones, listen to music/radio/GPS, and most importantly intercom up to four riders. The setup has effective noise cancellation that works well to filter out wind and engine noise, great voice-activated commands, and sophisticated audio quality management. Run time is great, the 13 hours talk time and 1 week standby seem to be roughly accurate.
So how does the G4 change the riding experience? Like their motorcycle and biking versions, it's hard to describe just how cool it is to just talk with your friends, whenever you want. It turns what can be an isolated experience, especially inside all your winter armor, into a social event. It's also a safety enhancement, for the rider out of sight and getting into trouble and for the lead rider to be able to recon a line and report back.
The only shortcoming on the G4, and we've noted this with the biking version, is that heavy cover (trees, rocks, etc.) will drastically cut down on the distance you can use it. The flip-up antenna and other design factors make this less of an issue with the G4, and with snowmobiling in general you're probably on relatively open trails and terrain anyway, where you'll get close to impressive max range of a mile with unobstructed line of sight.