Can boot sensors and an app improve your skiing techniques? Elaine Deed switches on to the digital ski coach, Carv that's carving a big niche in the ski wearables market.
'BOLLOCKS!'. The French guy sitting beside me on the chair looked slightly startled when I exclaimed out loud on the lift going to the top of Clot Gauthier. Of course, he didn't know that I had just been told that the pressure on my outside ski decreased on my last run, which I thought was rather unfair considering the effort I'd put in.
I couldn't argue, though, with my boots. At least, not with the Carv inserts that have 72 sensors plus accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer to judge how well I am carving on the piste - and give feedback via the app and Bluetooth on my earbuds.
GOING FULL PISTE
Who knew I'd be writing about carving on the piste, when I usually only think of pistes as a means to access side or slackcountry - or for a cafe ski with friends. But during the winter 2022, skiing the pistes was about the only option in the Southern Alps, thanks to a lack of snow everywhere else out of resort.
What better time to up my carving skills and test out Carv?
So instead of dodging trees in powder, it was a season for avoiding kids in snowplough, swapping first tracks in freshies for first lifts to do corduroy, my off piste skiing skills having to adjust to artificial snow, hardpack, ice and moguls. And, instead of riding in my Scott Superguide lightweight ski touring boots with DPS Pagoda Tour 106s, I actually wore my Atomic downhill boots most of the season and bought Rossignol Nova 7s skis to go full piste.
With skis that are, for once, narrower than my boots, and nowhere else to go except in resort, what better time to up my carving skills and test out Carv?
KEY TECH TOYS
Sophisticated gadgets and skiing wearables are not just the future but right now, part of our gear, on and off the piste. We have tech for route-planning, communication, filming, keeping warm and safety at the press of a button (or voice control) so a ski instructor that's digital? Why not. It's just one more addition to the apps on your phone with batteries to attach to your boots - and charge - along with all the other key tech toys.
The kickstarter broke the record for a sports wearable
Carv is the creation of Jamie Grant, who completed a Master of Physics at University of Oxford before undertaking a PhD in Financial Economics at Imperial College London, applying both these disciplines to his passion for skiing. The result is one of the most brilliant pieces of personal tech kit in the ski industry - or any industry. The kickstarter broke the record for a sports wearable on the crowd-sourcing platform.
When Carv launched in 2015 the aim was to bring real-time personalised coaching to the 92 percent of skiers who don't have traditional lessons. Now, seven years later, Carv has shared over one million ski tips with over 20,000 skiers across the globe.
FIRST TEST, SETTING IT UP
When the Carv package arrived - deceptively small for such a huge amount of technology - at STYLE ALTITUDE HQ in the French Alps, I admit that I didn't rip it open immediately, feeling slightly queasy at the thought of setting it all up. Couldn't I just book our internationally acclaimed local ski instructor, the carve aficionado and very aptly named, Darren Turner, who knows all about correcting bad ski habits.
I know many who revel in discovering all the latest tech gear, but I have enough trouble with the recordings on my Garmin Fenix 5 sportswatch.
The first test for Carv would be to see if I could figure out how to make it work
I asked Gav, seeing as he IS our Tech Editor, to help with the installation but he shook his head and said the first test for Carv would be to see if I could figure out how to make it work. Good point. If I could do it, anyone can.
And, yes, happily anyone can. The instruction booklet and online guide make it really easy, from fitting the bootpads under your liners (you have to buy them the same as your boot size), to charging the battery packs, connecting the app and calibrating each footpad. You can also watch the Carv hardware setup video.
YOUR NEW BF
Ready to go, the first worry was would the 3mm footpads make a difference to the boot fit? And, for me, absolutely not, I didn't notice they were there. The second worry, as with all tech, was would it work? At the top of the lift, I turned on the app, pressed start and, hallelujah, an American women talking in my ear (via my Apekx earbuds), enthused, 'Hey, Lainey, let's carve'.
A coach also knows how to give tough love
The default voice of Carv is female American and comes across as your new best friend, a bit like Oprah Winfrey to Meghan Markle. If I'm going to have a ski BF, though, I'd choose Sarah Jessica Parker for her take on ski jacket styles
Carv is encouraging like a BF but with the sort of rousing 'go get 'em tiger' that you'd expect from the coach of the New York Yankees. But never forget that a BF and a coach also know how to give tough love. Hence my exclamation going up on the chairlift when I received the rather scathing review of my last set of carving turns.
What's worse, my Ski:IQ™ went down to 110. Ski:IQ™ is a measure of your carving ability with seven levels from Green Guru through to Grim Ripper so from 50 up to 150+ points for your carving. Improving your score to go up another level is what makes Carv so addictive. Like Tetris.
It's also one reason why I was a tad reticent to test it out. Meh, what if I never got further than Green Guru?
Only 12 percent of Carv users can carve the accurate, advanced turns
As the Carv seems to be used by many experts, including ski professionals, instructors and racers, the scoring side for recreational skiers can be daunting. Apparently only 12 percent of Carv users can carve the accurate, advanced turns that achieve a Ski:IQ™ over 135.
But, of course, revealing your level is completely up to you. And, also, remember it is only judging your carving not your ability to do moguls, steeps or powder bowls. Not yet, anyway.
AN INSIDE EDGE
Yep, it is ironic that skiing icy moguls down a steep black that takes skill and nerve can actually score you a low Ski:IQ™, simply because such a run is not optimal for carving. But Carv HQ is working on this, currently researching and collecting data for using Carv in different terrain types including bumps and powder.
Meanwhile, it helps to have an inside edge (excuse the pun) on how Carv works if you want to increase your Ski:IQ™.
I'm always up early, preferring to do the freshly groomed pistes for a couple of hours, but it took me until my fifth session to realise that rather than mixing it up with blues, reds and blacks, a perfectly pisted blue run is optimal for Ski:IQ™ scores.
Simply, your bad turns don't count towards your Ski:IQ™
As one reviewer on Facebook commented to achieve your best results with Carv you need: 'perfect snow, even pitch, freshly groomed, no variation in angles or snow, and definitely no ice, hard pack, or slush'. Also, no crowds.
It's good to know that Carv takes an average of your turn scores. So does that make your Ski:IQ™ go down when skiing a flatter section where you're not carving so much? Well it did but fortunately, this season, Carv has introduced 'Turn Discarding', where turns are discounted if below a certain percentage of the score of your best turns. Simply, your bad turns don't count towards your Ski:IQ™ such as when you're traversing, you arrive at the lift or you swerve to avoid someone.
I wouldn't (and didn't) bother with the Carv leaderboard, unless you are (or have been) a full on professional skier - or similar standard - and can score over 160 as so many in the 12 percent of high scorers have notched up 155 or over on the Ski:IQ™, which is way above even the highest Level 7, Grim Ripper.
How significant is it, though, that the vast majority on the leaderboard are men, with only a handful of women in the top 200?
Currently, far more men use Carv than women
I did wonder if this has to do with weight, as in a heavy rock going down hill will have more impact/pressure than a light pebble. But the people at Carv assure me that the sensors measure relative pressure changes, rather than absolute pressure, so your weight does not have a significant impact on your pressure scores or Ski:IQ™.
The dominance of men on the leaderboard could, of course, be down to the simple fact that, currently, far more men use Carv than women.
UP YOUR ANTE
You can up your ante - and, therefore, your Ski:IQ™- as suggested by Aiden, Marketing Channel Manager at Carv: 'If you do a great section of turns, and then stop Carv, therefore limiting the number of available turns for Ski:IQ™ to process, you are likely to get a better score compared to keeping Carv going while your turn performance decreases'.
Going full tilt down a slalom course, therefore, using Carv from the starting gate to the finishing pole, would definitely work as demonstrated by the pros with their impressive Ski:IQ™ scores on the leaderboard.
Allowing you to understand what's affecting your score, turn by turn
Also, factor in skis. Obviously pure carvers are going to assist with that crucial edging.
There is a helpful 'Turn Ski:IQ™ Monitor' mode in-app. Once you know about this feature - and can find it as it's not obvious (in the ' Free Ski' section swipe the screen left three times) - you'll discover that it will read out your Ski:IQ™ on every turn, allowing you to understand what's affecting your score, turn by turn. Also good to know.
In the first two weeks I used the Carv for five sessions for two hours in the morning on the pistes. I soon learnt that it's best when skiing on your own. You can concentrate better on technique and listen to the feedback on the chairlifts, while trying not to swear out loud in front of strangers.
It, also, means you can do the same run multiple times to compare your carving score which, while getting you a thumbs up from the lifties, would bore your friends senseless.
ON YOUR TOES
The Carv has many extras in the app and endless feedback that drills down on your balance, rotation, edging and pressure, comparing your sessions. There are also training modes that focus on one aspect to help you improve.
So not only does it make you carve better, but it also keeps you entertained and on your toes - or at least the balls of your feet. Like have you ever thought of 'toppling' to help you carve? Watch the video, below.
At the beginning of the process, I was trying to topple and carving with conscious effort with every turn, determined to increase my Ski:IQ™ to at least Carve Connoisseur level. After a few sessions using the Free Ski setting for Ski:IQ™ scoring, I started to appreciate the training modes, as well.
I admit that I thought I'd just test Carv for a day or two. But it's compulsive, once you turn on that app. I started using Carv at the end of March, interspersing sessions with skiing with friends and family, and with what late spring ski touring was left. As we are out in the mountains all winter, I found it a great incentive to get up the hill on first lifts carving corduroy for an hour or two, when I might not have bothered going up the hill just to ski in resort.
Out of resort and in the backcountry
I ran out of time - and snow - to try Carv as much as I would have liked. After around three sessions, my Ski:IQ™ was 124. which is two points below Carv Connoisseur, Level 5. However, in 'Turn Ski:IQ™ Monitor' mode I was hitting 145, which is Level 6, Mountain Master. But the snow in April didn't make carving easy and the season ended too soon in the French Alps with slush on the slopes mid-morning so even skiing in a straight line was hard work.
But I can't wait to progress further, next winter. Unless, of course, we have major snow and I'm out of resort and in the backcountry.
CARV V SKI INSTRUCTOR
I've read quite a few reviews on Carv that are glowing, and been on a few forums were there are sceptics. Some would say (especially if they are ski instructors!) that it is no substitute for taking ski lessons.
What surprises me is the fact that, as Carv says, 92 percent of skiers don't seem bothered about ski lessons. They reach an intermediate standard then slip and slide down the pistes and think carving is what you do to the turkey.
Carv has the practical advantage over a ski instructor
So there is the inevitable comparison to having a ski instructor and the cost, but it depends on how many lessons you have compared to how much you use Carv. You can start skiing with Carv for a one-off $149 cost for the device, plus a 1-year membership pass for $199 a year. This gives you access to on-snow and off-snow coaching features all season, including exclusive workouts, gear, and technique videos.
Of course, as well as the financial saving of not tipping and buying your instructor's lunch, Carv has the practical advantage over a ski instructor with those sensors actually telling where your weight and pressure is on the skis and how much you are edging, which is difficult to assess visually.
Having someone video you at the same time as using Carv - or film yourself skiing with a GoPro 360 attached to your pole (as I did for the main image) - is a good way to assess your body position. You can even sync your Carv feedback with footage on your iPhone or iPad, if you have one.
Carv gives as many and as entertaining tips as the most imaginative ski instructor uses for kids to encourage learning, with suggestions such as 'lift your inside ski a millimetre off the snow like a hovercraft' or 'change your weight onto each ski like pedalling a bike'. High five to whoever at Carv came up with 'ski like an athletic banana'.
I had never thought of skiing like a banana before but I gave it a go - and while cranking my turns, bending how I imagined an athletic banana would, I strained my intercostal muscle, which is not a ski injury I've had before!
Tech-wise it leaves many other ski apps eating snow
Skiing like an athletic banana is now in my head along with many of the other suggestions. I don't know about you, but I'm used to a voice in my head telling me what to do when skiing as I am constantly judging myself and how I ski. Even better, Carv does this for me.
The Carv is undoubtedly a tech triumph in all its aspects for recording, analysing and training to improve your carving with even personalised exercises to keep you ski fit pre-season plus many videos to demonstrate technique. It's a genius - and fun - way to improve your skiing. Tech-wise it leaves many other ski apps eating snow.
Style Altitude has no affiliate arrangement with any brand or retailer and will not profit from any sales made through links in this feature.
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