I like to think I’m a reasonably good skier for someone who only spends two weeks of the year on the slopes, but there’s plenty of GoPro footage that suggests the opposite. Over the years I’ve had quite a few lessons, but it’s an expensive business. So when I was asked if I wanted to try Carv, a digital ski trainer that gives real-time coaching turn-by-turn, I was in the loft in a flash, hauling down my ski gear. A couple of days later, I headed off to Hintertux in Austria to meet Jamie Grant, Carv’s co-creator.
We arrived in darkness, so it wasn’t until the next morning that I got my first glimpse of the Hintertux glacier and it started to dawn on me that there might be quite a bit of ice. As I tried to put aside all thoughts of Bambi, Jamie introduced me to Carv £229, getcarv.com), my ski instructor for the day. Each unit is made up two physical parts, an insole that goes in your ski boot beneath the liner, and a tracker that clips on the back of your boot and is connected to the insole via a cable. Of course we’re not talking Odor Eaters here – the insoles each have 48 pressure sensors and nine movement sensors. It’s the trackers that house the battery and connect by Bluetooth to your iPhone (Android compatibility coming soon) to relay your skiing performance to the Carv app. Your phone also provides the GPS data so the app can identify which lift or piste you’re on and your earbuds let you hear Carv’s advice. The setup procedure is pretty straightforward: it’s just a case of firing up the app, following the instructions and pairing the phone and trackers. Once the boots are on your feet, you need to lift each boot in turn to calibrate the pressure sensors. Then all you need to do is pop in your earbuds and set Carv running.
At the top of the mountain, I clipped on my unfamiliar hire skis and tried to ignore the slick carving of the 10-yearolds cannoning out of the lift, the massive patches of ice, and Jamie’s passing mention of skiing with pros like Olympian Dave Ryding. Yes, I was under absolutely no pressure. Thankfully, Jamie recommended that I ski badly initially so I could see how Carv picked up on poor technique. Say no more! I set off, focusing on staying on my feet over the ice and kept the deliberately bad skiing for the more powdery (less icy) sections of piste. I’d expected some coaching as I went along, but with Carv set to ‘Free Session’, I was actually being silently judged. It was only when I got to the bottom of the piste, unclipped my skis and sat down in the gondola that Carv piped up to tell me what a great job I’d done and how far I’d skied. Helpfully, it also told me what my Ski IQ score was and that I needed to work on my ‘edge similarity’. The score is derived from 35 metrics that are measured on every turn to assess aspects of your skiing, such as your balance, distribution of weight, edge angle, speed and smoothness of movement. Up to the top again and this time I gave it my best shot. I had a few slips on the ice but I kept my weight forward and tried to remember everything I’d ever been told about great skiing technique.
EDGING ONWARD As I rode the gondola back up again, Carv broke the news to me that my IQ was up from 99 to 106 but I still needed to work on my edging. It was time for some coaching and I switched from ‘Free Session’ to ‘Training’. This is divided up into Balance, Edging,Rotary and Pressure, I chose to work on my weakest point with Edging.
A sliding control lets you select one of 20 levels for the skill development. Feeling confident, I went for 12 but it soon became clear that it was over ambitious – or at least on the icy terrain. Each turn was greeted with a wet fart sound that let me know it was not going well, followed by advice along the lines of ‘turn your skis together’. On the ride back to the top, I reduced the level to 10 and tried again. This time the wet fart sounds were interspersed with upbeat dings. I was making progress. By the bottom of the run, I’d made it to the next level.
My spirits raised, I headed back to the top of the same slope and gave it another go. In fact, I gave it another few goes, because each time I managed to progress to the next level until I was at 14. It was time to switch back to Free Session mode and see how my skiing had improved. My score was up to 111 – now we’re talking. I found using Carv pretty addictive, but there were times when I wanted it to give me more information. Instead of being told to keep my feet a hip’s width apart, for instance, I wanted to know if Carv thought my feet were too close or too far apart, and when I hit a lump of crud and nearly face-planted but recovered, I was waiting for some praise. I mentioned this to Jamie, and he got pretty excited because he’s planning on increasing the level of communication in the future.
One of the great things about Carv is that it’s fed by machine learning. Every turn that’s made with a Carv unit creates more data that’s gathered and used to make improvements. It’s already an excellent device, but I’m pretty excited about what it could become over the coming season.