Skiing seems pretty simple when you’re watching Olympic downhillers hurtling around South Korean slopes like human Scalextric cars.
But actually learning how to carve and parallel ski? That’s a bit trickier. Sure, you could get lessons, but they’re often expensive and lack one-to-one time. Which is where Carv, a boot-based virtual ski coach, comes in.
After spending a few fruitless days rediscovering my ski legs in the French Alps, at times resembling a cart careening down a hill with wonky wheels, I decided to swap my human ski instructor Hervé for MotionMetrics’ new wearable ski system.
Carv consists of two insoles and a little clip-on box, which together promise to provide real-time technique feedback through your headphones.
But could it help a relative beginner like me? And would it be challenging enough for seasoned skiers like my friend? It was time to hit the slopes and find out...
Design and setup: Piste of cake
Carv’s smart sole inserts slip underneath your boot lining. They’re extremely durable and at only 1mm thick, you don’t notice they’re even there.
Each one packs an impressive 48 pressure sensors that pick up the most incremental changes. It was developed with the PSIA (Pro Ski Institute of America) with the knowledge and feedback from elite skiers. Which is great, unless you were keen to learn how to snow plough into a tree.
The box unit clips on to the back of your boot. I initially thought it looked a bit chunky, but within the context of bulky ski apparel, it was barely that noticeable and trousers can easily be tucked over them.
To be fair, it also packs in a load of accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers, which calculate the info, metrics and orientation of your skis. That data is sent to your iPhone via Bluetooth (there’s an Android version being developed for a release very soon), with an app and voice coach acting as your snow sensei.
The whole setup process only took about five minutes. After that it’s just a case of calibrating each foot, so it can reset the sensors after each session. This involves pressing ‘calibrate’ on the app and lifting your boot. Which is actually a good pastime for when you’re in a gondola lift and all out of Milka.
Performance: ski funday
So does Carv actually work? Well, eat my snow, it really does.
There are two main modes: free ski and drills. The latter consists of five levels and turns skiing into a kind of game, which is helpful way to make sure your technique and motivation doesn’t head quickly downhill.
‘Free ski’ is a good place to start, though. This tracks your technique silently and then at the end shows you where you excelled and where you had a wobble. You’ll be able to see your speeds too and which areas you need to work on.
You also get a handy ‘Ski IQ’, which is a overall rating of your skills based on over 35 metrics like pressure and edge angle. Mine was in the 80s, which is just about average. Anything over 100, like my friend’s score of 123, is really good. Over 125? You’re an unearthly ski-lord.
My edging isn’t good enough and my pressure stability is also a cause for serious concern. For all of my human instructor Hervé’s encouragement (“I look at you and see that you want to be a parallel girl, and you will soon become one”), he didn’t know exactly what was going on in my boots.
And that’s where the talent of these multiple sensors really comes in to play. Real data, in real time, 114 inputs measuring speed, acceleration, weight distribution and ski orientation at a snow-stopping 25 times a second.
App and audio feedback: artificial ski-telligence
I opted to do my next run and perform one of the drills to see if I could stay parallel before working on my edging. This is where Carv’s voice feedback would be tested.
As soon as I turned and was perfectly parallel, I’d hear an encouraging sparkly whooshing music in my ear; when I wasn’t parallel, I’d hear the Family Fortune’s horn of failure.
After a succession of successful turns, I moved up a level was told “Great Skiing!” and my dreams of becoming Parallel Girl seemed like they were becoming a reality.
Next was a lesson on edging, which is where you tip your skis and engage in the snow. I was told a score each time I dug in my skis at the start of a turn and aimed to get the number higher and higher each time. This is the kind of thing I would have no idea about without something like Carv.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. It could provide more instructive corrections, with physical instructions of exactly how to move your legs and where to angle your body.
It can’t fully analyse the terrain either. Skiing on powder or ice can drastically alter the way you tackle the piste.
Still, even after a few runs, I’d seen my Ski IQ go up. I hadn’t really thought about skiing in a technical way before and put it all down to confidence and lack thereof. This is still a very important factor, of course, but it’s something a rising Ski IQ can help with too.
The biggest testament to Carv’s coaching abilities is that I could see my skiing improving in only a few hours.
The app and audio feedback helped me consciously think about my turns and carve time, and pushed me to concentrate on consistency.
It’s not just for beginners either. My super-skiing friend Luke was flying through the levels, but still felt the challenge on level 4.
There are some small weaknesses, such as the lack of in-depth technique suggestions, and at £249 it’s quite a pricey add-on if you don’t ski regularly.
But if you hit the slopes frequently, and fancy climbing up a Strava-like skiing leaderboard while honing your turns, it’s a cracking accessory that I was sad to leave behind.
Still, at least après-ski will be a bit livelier without it - otherwise I'd be analysing my rotaries while the others peruse the beer menu.