Accelerometers… magnetometers… gyroscopes… an alluring, all-knowing voice in your headphones… IFMGA mountain guide and Head of Skiing at Glenmore Lodge Andy Townsend gets addicted to a digital ski instructor created by a British team of ski-mad tech wizards.
“Go get them tiger,” purrs Ava, the voice of Carv, in her slightly worryingly sexy machine voice. I don’t need any encouragement – I point my skis down the fall line and make the best turns I can trying to please and impress my new ski mistress.
I’m on the Hintertux Glacier, in Austria. It’s October and I am there looking after 14 junior ski racers getting some pre-season training but have slipped away to test the Carv digital ski coach products. Why me? Well, I have been deputised by Fall-Line’s backcountry editor Martin Chester as his stunt double, a combination of his mega-busy diary and me being already in Austria. I am going to spend two days with the team from Carv, trying the inserts and trackers, having my photo taken and seeing if it will improve my ski performance.
What is Carv?
It’s a very clever bit of technology that provides accurate data on how you ski. Some users will find the data and its evaluation a little too honest for their rose-tinted glasses but it is very, very accurate.
Carv is a boot-shaped insert that slides easily between your shell and inner boot; this insert is linked to a tracking unit that clips to your booster strap by a low-profile cable. The tracker unit connects to your smartphone and the downloaded app does the rest, providing real-time updates on your skiing and offering suggestions on how to improve, simple really.
The app is astonishingly detailed. Ava is the voice of the app, can give you a verbal weather report and knows where you are on the mountain all the time, as every ski piste in the world is compressed into the app databank.
The technology behind the system is mind-blowing. Forty-eight of the highest-grade pressure sensors are in each insert; add to this the three accelerometers, the three gyroscopes and the three magnetometers. All this is packed into a thin, boot-shaped insert that is compatible with every alpine boot on the planet. The tracking unit is slim and compact, as well as very stylish – in black with a chic backlit logo. Once on, it is unnoticeable with your trouser legs pulled down.
How does it work?
I am with Dr Jamie Grant, one of the company’s co-founders, and the man behind the concept. He has already explained how the system works, linked my iPhone to the hardware and given me a set of ear buds so sexy-sounding that Ava can massage and shatter my ego at the same time.
We start with a ‘free run’: I ski and the system analyses my skiing data and will give me a skier IQ. I am not the first journalist to test the device and Dr Jamie has a leader board, so the pressure is on and FL’s reputation is in my hands.
As I ski, Carv effortlessly monitors my outside ski pressure, turn symmetry, edge angle, posture and balance and a bewildering bunch of other measurements – up to 35 different metrics per turn. Once you stop the data is crunched and computed, and Ava whispers my IQ score into my ear once I am back on the ski lift. Not only do I get a score, but some recommendations to improve. The data is also presented on my phone and I can evaluate how many of my bad habits remain.
Dr J explains that the data is collected and with the use of cutting-edge gaming technology they are helping skiers of all abilities to improve by providing them with accurate feedback loops.
I barely have time to look at my metric data before Dr J has set me up to be tested on the Monitor section. Ava and her all-seeing boot inserts are going to crunch the data for each turn and decide if it’s worthy of a pass or fail. If I do well, I will be rewarded with a ding in my ear buds; if I do badly, a dong. Get enough dings and I can’ level up’ and move on to a progressively more demanding criterion. Each metric has 20 levels and each level require lots of perfect turns and dings to pass.
I roll my eyes as this sounds like hard work and not my thing but after the first couple of dings, I am addicted. I ignore Dr J and chase my target of Level 20, concentrating on symmetrical edge angles. The constant monitoring and feedback might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it does help improve your ski technique and it is also fun!
The clever team of developers at Carv have more to offer than just monitoring your skiing. Working with some of the world’s top ski instructors and coaches they have created challenge and drills sections to fine-tune your technique. They have certainly chosen well: Eric Lipton is a PSIA ski instructor and member of the USA demo team and Kaylin Richardson is a former Olympian. Both are embedded in the app to guide you through the drills and challenges. You can also share this data with your fellow skiers or buddies and challenge each other, like a ski technique version of Strava – only much cooler!
My testing day with Dr J is going well – I am converted and addicted to Carv, I am loving the drills and I am so obsessed with levelling up as much as I can that we don’t stop for lunch till 3pm. I have completely forgotten about my ski racing charges who have finished training and are waiting at the bottom for me to take them back to the chalet.
So does Carv work, and what about the backcountry skier?
The short answer is: yes, it does work. It will improve your skiing, the live feedback and challenges are absorbing and will refine technique whether you are an intermediate, advanced or a pro. The app is focused directly on piste performance but for the backcountry skier a solid and broad foundation skillset is essential for your enjoyment and safety and Dr J and his gaming boffins are already working on the off-piste version.
Did I manage to uphold the honour of Fall-Line?
Dr J posted my skier IQ on the Carv leaderboard so get a set of inserts and try and beat me!
Andy’s verdict on Carv
+ Accurate feedback loops on your skiing performance. Each turn analysed using 35 different metrics.
+ Gaming technology makes the ski challenges and drills enjoyable.
+ Able to share data with friends so you can maintain your king or queen of the hill status.
+ Track your technique over the season to see real improvements – ideal if recovering from an injury or rehabilitating from an operation, a replacement knee or hip.
+ Would provide motivation for solo skiers or on a bad weather day and could be entertainment for Mum and Dads on a family ski week.
+ Available in IOS and Android from 20 December 2019
+ Boot inserts did not interfere with boot fit; the slight reduction in volume was helpful.
+ Carv doesn’t expect a generous tip like your real-life instructor.
– Unlike a real-life ski instructor Carv won’t take you to the best restaurants for lunch.
– The honesty of the feedback is blunt and will not be to everyone’s taste.
Version 3 is available for pre-order at £279 (RRP £299) with delivery on 20 December 2019. The trackers are 30% smaller, the inserts are thinner, and the cable is more robust.
Owners of Version 2 will be available to download the software up date for free after 20 December.
❄ British Mountain Guide Andy Townsend splits his time between private guiding and being Head of Skiing at Glenmore Lodge, Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre.
He learnt to ski on a school trip, lacking co-ordination for normal sports, and skiing quickly became an all-consuming passion.
A brief career in the design world persuaded Andy that he wasn’t cut out for corporate life and he should qualify as a mountain guide and spend his time climbing and skiing.
Conveniently married to an ex-ski racer and with two ski racing kids, Andy is able to indulge his ski addiction in the name of supporting his family.
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