Getting the most out of your ski vacation means getting in a lot of runs. It's time you looked into buying an altimeter if you're as obsessed about the number of vertical feet you rack up as the equipment you ski on.

Altimeters are small devices that track not only your current elevation on the mountain, but also how many vertical feet you've ascended. Most of the new models also incorporate barometers, compasses, timepieces, and even heart rate monitors into one compact instrument.

Altimeters are available as standalone devices or wristwatches and come in analog or digital models. For the serious skier or mountain climber, digital altimeters are available for as little as $100 to more than $550. One of the best selling altimeters is the High Gear Altitech 2 Digital Altimeter with a built in digital compass. It comes with a handy caribiner body that clips onto your belt or backpack. It also features a compass, thermometer, chronograph and alarm clock. The center hinge can be bent to act as a stand - perfect for setting next to your sleeping bag.

The Skywatch GEOS #11 Handheld Weather Station, for serious backcountry enthusiasts, offers all the features of an altimeter and can measure windspeed, temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. The Skywatch costs around $500.

Most skiers prefer altimeter wristwatches because they're loaded with features and can be worn comfortably on the wrist. Altimeter wristwatches cost between $90 and $500 and include the same features as their larger cousins. One of the most affordable models is the Tech 4-O Altimeter Watch. It tracks cumulative daily ascent and descent, altitude, barometric pressure, temperature and time. The Tech 4-0 is perfect for skiers, hikers, runners, climbers and mountain bikers. At less than $100, the Tech 4-O is perfect for the recreational skier

If your skiing adventures take you into the backcountry, then chances are you'll need an altimeter with a little more heft and value for your dollar. The Sunto Core Wristop Computer comes with an altimeter, barometer, weather trend indicator, storm alarm, compass, sunrise/sunset schedule, thermometer and even a depth meter if you intend to take it into the water. It retails for $275.

The Suunto Stainless Steel/Elastomer Wristop Computer for $299 will not only keep track of your altitude and all of the usual information included with other sports watches, but it also will record the number of runs you've skied, as well as your average, top speed, and cumulative ascents.

Regardless of the model you choose, there are a number of important features to look for in a quality altimeter. These include the following:

  • Altitude range - this can range from sea level to as high as 29,000 feet (the height of Mt. Everest).
  • Accuracy - acceptable altimeters have an accuracy range of +/- 5 percent. Good quality altimeters have accuracy ranges of +/- 1 percent.
  • Advanced Features - many altimeters feature hands-free use. This can be important when you're climbing and using both hands. If you need both hands, consider a wristwatch model. Good backpacking altimeters come with some type of caribiner attachment that allows easy access to the instrument. Higher end altimeters can capture data trends and allow you to analyze activity over time. If you're going to be out for days or weeks at a time, consider buying an analog altimeter - one that doesn't require batteries. If you're also going to be using your altimeter for skydiving, consider buying one of the models that feature "danger zones" and life-saving alarms.

Using an altimeter while skiing on your next trip is a fun, informative, and safe way to provide you with accurate information about your skiing. It can help you with those hard-earned bragging rights that you'll swap at the end of the day.