Carv Digital Ski Coach

Thanks to Wired for this:

Advice tailored to your skill level. Impressive data. Bite-sized training tips anyone can understand. It will improve your skiing.

Featuring sensor-packed ski boot insole and app, Carv Digital Ski Coach offers the promise of real-time coaching and performance analysis through 72 pressure and motion sensors.

As you ski, your technique is broken down into 13 live metrics—based around balance, edging, rotation, and pressure—before the software gives you a performance score (your “Ski:IQ”) and offers tailored hints, tips, and training drills to help you improve.

Developed with input from PSIA (The Professional Ski Instructors of America), CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructors Association), and Interski in the UK, Carv says it has analyzed millions of turns to ensure that it is giving users the best advice while offering tried and tested training drills you would expect to receive from a human instructor.

Installing the Carv insoles involves pulling out your ski boot liner and sticking cables down using gaffer tape (included in the box). It’s not the most elegant or straightforward installation, but step-by-step videos are available on the app to make things easier. If you buy through a brick-and-mortar retailer, we would advise getting a pro to fit them.

Once the liners have been replaced and the battery pack clipped onto the outside of the boot, you’re ready to calibrate, which means synching to the app via Bluetooth and following the few on-screen instructions.

Carv Digital Ski Coach

At 3-mm thick, once fitted, the insoles and the battery pack clipped to the outside of the boot didn’t get in the way, and we couldn’t feel them. The entire setup only adds 296 grams to the weight of each boot. Once we added our vitals to the app and put our headphones in, we were ready to ski.

Using headphones—in our case AirPod Pros—enables you to get real-time coaching as you ski, and more in-depth tuition on the lifts, without disturbing others. One recommendation here is to use low-profile earbuds, as they can get uncomfortable when worn under a helmet. The best option would be a lid with Bluetooth speakers built in.

The Carv system is based around that Ski:IQ determination, a quantified estimate of your skiing technique that, if you follow the training, should hopefully increase over time.

The average skier will be scoring around 100, intermediates will score between 110-125, experts 125-140, and professionals 140+.

Setting the app to Free Ski (where the program monitors your runs but doesn’t enforce specific drills), users completed a steady blue run and, as we sat on the chairlift—the app knows when you’re on the lift—we were given our Ski:IQ number and a training tip to try on the next run. These pearls of wisdom varied, from getting us to lean forward more to maintaining even balance between edges, working on edge symmetry, rotation, and a host of other variables. If you’ve ever had ski lessons you’ll know precisely the sort of thing to expect.

Carv Digital Ski Coach

The app doesn’t try to overload you with advice, instead concentrating on one specific thing (much like a professional coach would), and it handily gives you a shortened reminder of what to practice just as you start skiing again, in case you have forgotten the advice metered out on the lift. Once you get to the next lift, you’ll get an updated IQ score and another training tip. And on it goes.

If you’re the type of person who thrives on competition and lives for the dopamine hit an improved score can provide, you’re going to love Carv. Pushing to improve our Ski:IQ quickly became addictive, while the coaching advice genuinely helped us understand what makes a better, more sweeping carve.

It’s worth noting that the technology won’t teach a total novice to ski, and it works best if you can already make basic parallel turns. The app is currently optimized for the most popular blue and red groomed trails, rather than black-rated and powder, although Carv is hoping to introduce an off-piste mode for the 2022-2023 season.

There is also a wide range of training modes, designed to improve specific aspects of your skiing, including some surprisingly entertaining challenges that essentially gamify your technique progression, plus modes that measure your ski edge angle, symmetry, and rhythm, to name a few. We defy anyone not to be spurred on by the “ping” that signifies a good carve. These training sessions are suitable for all abilities, as the fundamentals of good technique remain the same for amateurs and professionals.

The gamification of these advanced training drills makes learning enjoyable and can give your time in the mountains renewed focus. Even half an hour a day using Carv would be beneficial—and, in truth, much more than a couple of hours becomes exhausting, especially if bad habits creep in with tired legs. But we’re talking visible improvements with every few runs, which is genuinely rewarding.

Carv Digital Ski Coach

The Ski:IQ does suspiciously flatter the novice, though. Trust us, we’re not as good as our scores suggested. But, as with mastering any skill, there’s an inevitable leveling off of improvement over time. What’s likely going on here is that the model has been trained to intentionally flatter the new users to hook you in and then make things progressively harder once your motivation is high.

If you’re addicted to Strava (or the equivalent) you will love the vast amount of data generated by a day on the slopes. To the casual skier, average edge angles and outside edge pressure figures are potentially daunting, but this data is easy to ignore if you just want to see how fast you’ve gone and how many runs you’ve completed.

Carv pushed users to ski harder, faster, and longer than we typically would. Instead of dawdling down the piste, enjoying the view and thinking about the next refreshment pit stop, we were focused on how we were skiing, and crucially, how we could improve. What’s more, we skied the same trail countless times without getting bored because the focus was on training and boosting our score. This is perhaps one of the biggest boons for Carv outside of sharpening technique: the fact that it makes solo skiing genuinely entertaining.

What’s more, the boot transceiver uses low-energy Bluetooth and manages three long days on the mountain before needing recharging. Significantly, despite having earphones and the Carv app connected all day, battery drain (on both an iPhone 11 and 13) was minimal. We certainly weren’t watching the bars tumble.

This technology exists because founder and CEO Jamie Grant resented being the worst skier on his Oxford University ski trip when he was at college. Studying a degree in physics at the time—followed by a PhD in financial economics from Imperial College London—he switched focus to gathering skiing data, using the Oxbridge varsity ski teams as data mules and developing an algorithm that could differentiate between good and bad technique.

With the technology now available, the UK- and Austria-based company is targeting the lucrative US snow sport industry, with plans for an office in Aspen, Colorado, plus various deals secured with ski-rental firms and resorts. Ski tourism alone contributes about $20 billion to the US economy each year, with the global ski equipment segment estimated at around $1.4 billion, but it remains a difficult market to crack, with established brands gripping tightly to their market shares.

Carv is banking that the high cost of human-powered ski lessons at the fancier resorts will make the decision to try its app a no-brainer, even if you do have to pay an annual subscription, alongside the initial outlay for the hardware, for an app you will likely only use a few weeks of the year. One private lesson in Aspen will set you back up to $816, after all, and that’s just for half a day. Seen through this lens, Carv’s numbers look considerably more attractive.

Also, if Carv can design and execute a superb smart ski wearable, you can bet your lift pass that larger ski brands aren’t far behind. Atomic has already announced plans to launch a smart ski boot that features Suunto pressure sensors (a project currently delayed due to Covid), while Elan has been toying with concept smart skis since 2018. And as for direct competition, the Snow Cookie ski-mounted sensors can give you a similar amount of performance data but don’t offer any real-time training.

So even though other brands are seemingly coming for Carv’s lunch, Grant says they’re behind compared to the software and data analysis you get with his app. We’ll see, but what Carv has achieved thus far is genuinely impressive.

Buy: Carv Digital Ski Coach ($300.00)

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