Carv it up | An interview with the CEO

Ski device Carv - a footbed and electric clip device - is held up to the camera, a blurry mountain backdrop

Nicola Iseard talks to Jamie Grant, co-founder and CEO of Carv, about this game-changing device

For those who don’t know Carv, can you summarise what it is exactly?

Carv is a digital ski coach– but I think that pigeon-holes it a bit.It’s more of a ski performance system that analyses your technique, tracks your day, and gives you advice on how to improve.

The product is a very thin sensor that fits under the liner of your boot. It has 36 pressure sensors and an ‘all-axis’ motion sensor in each foot, which connects to a battery pack that you clip onto your boot strap.

This device measures your motion and pressure 20 times a second, sending it instantly to your phone via Bluetooth, where it is analysed as you ski. Depending on what mode you’re in, Carv will either give you a Ski:IQ score on each run and a tip on the chairlift, or you can try some more intense modes that have you hitting targets and hearing sounds on every turn via your headphones.

The hardware is incredible, and we’re very proud to have taken it to this level of accuracy – but it’s what we can do with the data that’s really exciting.

Most of us get lessons and largely stop getting any feedback once we can get down red or black runs. But we all have these baked-in technique issues that hold us back. It can be incredibly hard to get feedback on your skiing, especially if you only go a few times a year. So, by capturing all this data at the point your body connects with your ski (the boot), we have this rich database to dissect your skiing and work out exactly what you can change.

What inspired you guys?

I learned skiing as an adult, so I was aware of how hard it is to learn this sport. But I was so motivated to get better. I did a PhD in financial economics, so had learned about time-series data analysis and machine learning, and I knew that if you could measure enough datapoints in skiing, you could apply these tools to create an objective, accurate system to help anyone improve.

The best skiers on the mountain turn heads because they can make an exciting, dynamic, fluid turn.

At Carv, we have a founding mission to unlock that fun by helping people ski better. As we built it, what became exciting was the fact that we could take input from amazing instructors, plus the data that Carv is generating, and create a powerful coaching and performance system for anyone in the world.

Lessons are incredible, but most of us aren’t able to get lessons every time we go skiing. So we developed Carv to help you progress between lessons, after lessons, or even just to create a more thorough understanding going into a lesson.

Ski device Carv footbed is put into a ski boot without the liner

Did you envisage it being most useful for learners, or pros looking for more performance?

Carv is adapting to your profile, which means it can create value for a huge range of skiers. Intermediates will learn more control (Carv tends to identify balance, parallel skis and outside pressure as common areas to develop), so they’ll learn to make more solid parallel turns. Advanced skiers will learn how to get on edge and make dynamic carving.

Carv tends to push them towards dynamic C-shaped turns, which requires finer control of balance edging and pressure. This is generally the skill gap that means advanced skiers fall apart a bit on steeper slopes.

The only group we don’t recommend Carv for are beginners. It can’t show you the basics of setting up on snow.

two phone screens are featured, showing the stats of ski instructor app Carv, above which is an image of a skier in a deep carve

Have you been targeted by any ski instructor associations for pinching their customers?!

Haha… Carv actually does the opposite. About half our skiers haven’t had a lesson in the last three years, but 93% of them told us it made them much more interested in technique again, and 96% said it motivated them to improve. It’s why we’re partnering with a number of ski schools.

Do you use Carv yourself? Who on the team holds the lean angle record?!

Absolutely, we all do. We have a company leaderboard updating live in the office! We have a few great skiers on the team; I think Damian, our product manager, probably skis with the most style. It’s all to play for this year though!

How useable is it?

We’re always trying to find the balance between the amount of detail we can give the skier, and the usability. It can be complicated, not because of the technology, but because of the technique concepts it has to teach you to help you improve. We spent a lot of work last year on the product set up, and ease of use, so that bit is generally well received by all demographics (we have had great reports from skiers in their 70s).

The biggest learning curve is understanding all the concepts that go into a great ski turn. For example, most of us know about balance and outside ski pressure, but even these are nuanced. Balance isn’t just ‘lean forwards’ – it’s a dynamic movement that must occur at the start of the turn, moving to a ‘staying centred’ movement during the apex onwards.

The great thing is, these concepts are so useful at transforming your skiing wherever you are. They are not carving concepts; they are relevant in all terrain. But first you learn a little bit about them.

We’ve put a lot of work into how that happens this year – our audio tips gently teach a new concept, and we designed a whole new refresh of how our app was doing that, with short graphical videos to help you learn something so it ‘clicks’.

So, the app is as big a part of the Carv experience?

The app is where most of our work goes. It is what the membership pays for.

Every year we overhaul and improve Ski:IQ, we create new metrics with our ambassadors: things that represent important concepts in skiing that no one else has been able to measure accurately yet (for example progressive edging, early edging and G-force).

It also gets new training mode updates every season, so we’ll release new modes all the time.

Carv digital ski coach app in action

Does it give me reward points when I’m not skiing too backseat?

Basically, yes! You’ll start to really care about your Ski:IQ. When you feel like you’re ripping, Ski:IQ will score you well – so you learn to chase a higher score. And if you can fix a technique focus area, it’s even more motivating, because you can have a transformational breakthrough.

So that motivation, and Ski:IQ points system, is really important to help people feel confident to push their technique that little bit each day.

Do I need to worry about fitting them in my boots?

Nope, there’s nothing to worry about. The inserts fit underneath the boot liner – not inside it. The insert is 2-3mm thick, which for almost all skiers causes no issues. The liner has a little bit of padding, which can take up that space, and a very thin cable that runs up the side, which is imperceptible.

Have you found the sensors to be durable? I can imagine the conditions of living in a ski boot are pretty punishing…

We’ve spent a long time looking at where pressure and torsion are created in ski boots. So we adapted reinforcements, cable connectors, and even the material of the cable itself to minimise issues.

We find in an alpine setup there is a long lifespan. Touring boots in walk mode can create a little more movement, so were commend sticking to alpine boots, but many customers are fine in touring boots as well.

The units are waterproof, and to make the batteries robust, we have had a number of design iterations, so the clip is bomb-proof, and we even optimised the battery chemistry to last for three days-plus in the cold.

What can we see from Carv in the future?

This year we have a few exciting new developments for members. We’ve created three advanced/expert metrics with Ted Ligety, five times World Champion ski racer, that really help create a more dynamic and exciting turn (it’s all about G-forces!).

Carv will also now automatically detect what terrain you’re skiing on, so the system will actually adapt your scores to give you more credit for skiing well on harder terrain.

We’re also working on an exciting new coaching mode that adapts to your skiing as you ski each run, giving you personalised coaching on the fly, with specific levels created around your skiing ability, and a focus area that adapts to your needs.

It’s one you’ll have to come out and ski with before you write about it; it could be a real game-changer for how Carv coaches.

Carv CEO Jamie Grant in ski jacket and goggles on helmet smiles into camera
Carv CEO Jamie Grant