I like to think I’m a reasonably good skier for someone who only spends two weeks of the year on the slopes, but there’s plenty of GoPro footage that suggests the opposite. Over the years I’ve had quite a few lessons, but it’s an expensive business.
So when I was asked if I wanted to try Carv, a digital ski trainer that gives real-time coaching turn-by-turn, I was in the loft in a flash, hauling down my ski gear. A couple of days later, I headed off to Hintertux in Austria to meet Jamie Grant, Carv’s co-creator.
Carving it up in Austria with top skiing tech
We arrived in darkness, so it wasn’t until the next morning that I got my first glimpse of the Hintertux glacier and it started to dawn on me that there might be quite a bit of ice. As I tried to put aside all thoughts of Bambi, Jamie introduced me to Carv, my ski instructor for the day.
Each unit is made up two physical parts, an insole that goes in your ski boot beneath the liner, and a tracker that clips on the back of your boot and is connected to the insole via a cable. Of course we’re not talking Odor Eaters here—the insoles each have 48 pressure sensors and nine movement sensors.
It’s the trackers that house the battery and connect by Bluetooth to your iPhone (Android compatibility coming soon) to relay your skiing performance to the Carv app. Your phone also provides the GPS data so the app can identify which lift or piste you’re on and your earbuds let you hear Carv’s advice.
Cold as ice: time to ski
The setup procedure for Carv is pretty straightforward – a case of firing up the app, following the instructions and pairing the phone and trackers. Once the boots are on your feet, you need to lift each boot in turn to calibrate the pressure sensors. Then all you need to do is pop in your earbuds and set Carv running.
At the top of the mountain, I clipped on my unfamiliar hire skis and tried to ignore the slick carving of the 10-year-olds cannoning out of the lift, the massive patches of ice, and Jamie’s passing mention of skiing with pros like Olympian Dave Ryding. Yes, I was under absolutely no pressure. Thankfully, Jamie recommended that I ski badly initially so I could see how Carv picked up on poor technique. Say no more!
I set off, focusing on staying on my feet over the ice and kept the deliberately bad skiing for the more powdery (less icy) sections of piste. I’d expected some coaching as I went along, but with Carv set to ‘Free Session’, I was actually being silently judged.
It was only when I got to the bottom of the piste, unclipped my skis and sat down in the gondola that Carv piped up to tell me what a great job I’d done and how far I’d skied. Helpfully, it also told me what my Ski IQ score was and that I needed to work on my ‘edge similarity’. The score is derived from 35 metrics that are measured on every turn to assess aspects of your skiing, such as your balance, distribution of weight, edge angle, speed and smoothness of movement.
Up to the top again and this time I gave it my best shot. I had a few slips on the ice but I kept my weight forward and tried to remember everything I’d ever been told about great skiing technique.
Taking tips from a digital ski instructor
As I rode the gondola back up again, Carv broke the news to me that my IQ was up from 99 to 106, but I still needed to work on my edging. It was time for some coaching, so I switched from ‘Free Session’ to ‘Training’. This is divided up into Balance, Edging, Rotary and Pressure. I chose to work on my weakest point, Edging.
A sliding control enables you to select one of 20 levels for the skill development. Feeling confident, I went for 12 but it soon became clear that it was over ambitious – or at least on the icy terrain. Each turn was greeted with a wet fart sound that let me know it was not going well, followed by advice along the lines of ‘turn your skis together’.
On the ride back to the top I reduced the level to 10 and tried again. This time the wet fart sounds were interspersed with upbeat dings. I was making progress. By the bottom of the run, I’d made it to the next level.
Using machine learning to ski better
My spirits raised, I headed back to the top of the same slope and gave it another go. In fact, I gave it another few goes, because each time I managed to progress to the next level until I was at 14. It was time to switch back to Free Session mode and see how my skiing had improved. My score was up to 111 – now we’re talking!
I found using Carv pretty addictive, but there were times when I wanted it to give me more information. Instead of being told to keep my feet a hip’s width apart, for instance, I wanted to know if Carv thought my feet were too close or too far apart, and when I hit a lump of crud and nearly face-planted but recovered, I was waiting for some praise. I mentioned this to Jamie, and he got excited because he’s planning on increasing the level of communication in the future.
One of the great things about Carv is that it’s fed by machine learning. Every turn that’s made with a Carv unit creates more data that’s gathered and used to make improvements. It’s already an excellent device, but I’m pretty excited about what it could become over the coming season.
The best skiing tech used during our test
1. Carv Digital Ski Coach and Tracker
Get real-time pro coaching advice as you ski
This digital ski trainer dishes out real-time coaching turn-by-turn, right on the slope. Each unit is made up two physical parts. First up is the insole, laden with 48 pressure sensors and nine movement sensors, that goes in your ski boot beneath the liner. Secondly, there’s a tracker that clips onto the back of your boot and is connected to the insole via a slim cable.
The trackers house the battery and connect (via Bluetooth) to your iPhone (Android compatibility coming soon) to relay your skiing performance to the Carv app. Your phone also provides GPS data so the app can identify which lift or piste you’re on.
Listen to the Carv’s real-time coaching advice via your wireless earbuds.
2. Garmin Instinct
Track your entire ski session, calories burned and more
If you don’t track your skiing, it didn’t happen. Armed with a skiing mode and GPS, GLONASS and Galileo system compatibility, Garmin’s Instinct watch is built to military standards for thermal, shock and water resistance and can track every turn to keep you updated with vital info like your location, the distance you’ve covered, maximum speed and your heart rate.
It even recognises when you’re on a ski lift and pauses recording. Plus, with text and email notifications on your wrist, you don’t need to risk losing your phone while you’re going up.
3. Vallerett Skado Zipper Mitt
Waterproof gloves to keep you warm on the slopes
Let’s face it, the mountains are Instagram central. but thick ski gloves are a non-starter, (literally) for a phone or camera. Thanks to Primaloft insulation and a merino wool lining, these two-in-one mitts have the warmth of mittens yet allow the dexterity you need for shooting photos.
All you need to do is open the water-resistant zip to reveal the inner gloves and you’re set to take all the snowy pictures you desire. There’s even a press-stud to keep the mitten out go the way while you use the touchscreen-compatible thumb and forefinger.
4. GoPro Hero7 Black
Mount GoPro's finest to your helmet and film every turn
The best action cam around just got a whole lot better with the introduction of HyperSmooth in the HerO7 black. It’s the next generation of electronic image stabilisation and it transforms your jittery, nauseating footage into epic movies.
What’s more, it works in 4K mode at 50/60fps, so whether you’re using a helmet, chest or ski mount, you’ll capture all your best moves in glorious detail. The HerO7 black is also waterproof without the need for a case, has a two-inch touchscreen and has helmet mount- friendly voice control.
5. Abom Heet
These anti-fog goggles help you see more on the mountain
Ever ripped off your goggles in the hope of getting a clearer view and discovered that the fog is actually on the inside? Yeah, this happens all the time in the mountains. cue Abom’s Heet googles. They’re heated goggles with on-board environmental sensors to activate a thin-film electric heater and keep fog at bay when it’s imminent.
And if you need it, a quick tap on the side puts the Heet into On demand mode for a few minutes to drive off the fog. Just pick the lens tint you want and head to the mountains without the fear of annoying, foggy goggles.
6. Thermic Powersock Set Heat Multi + S-Pack 700
Keep your feet warm for up to eight hours with heated socks
If your feet feel warm, you can keep skiing until the last lift closes and still be smiling. If they’re cold, you’re going to be miserable the entire time. So say hello to the snappily titled Powersock combo, which melds X-Socks material with a heating element and enough battery power for up to eight hours of toasty toes.
The USB-charging batteries snap on at the top of the socks above your boot line and can be removed again so the socks can be washed at up to 30°c.
7. Mammut Avalanche Airbag Backpack 3.0
Stay safe when you ski by donning this wearable airbag
If you love the powder and hate crowded pistes, a backpack with an avalanche airbag is a sensible addition to your ski gear. Add a gas cartridge to this kit and if the worst happens, you can pull the cord to inflate the airbag so you stay at the surface.
The Flip removable Airbag 3.0 sits in the dedicated front pocket and takes up 2L of the backpack’s 22L capacity so you’ve got plenty of room to stow an extra layer and other essentials.
8. Roxy Women’s Jet Ski Premium Jacket
Enjoy the snow in Roxy's snug, waterproof ski jacket
Stay toasty on and off the slopes with Roxy’s thick and comfortable padded snow jacket for women. The form-fitting silhouette isn’t at in any way constrictive, so you can move freely as you ski (and walk around). The jacket is also treated with Roxy’s DryFlight waterproof membrane.
The faux-fur hood is removable, along with the snow skirt, while the taped seams will keep your belongings safe and protected from the elements. That fleece lined collar comes in handy during chillier days on the slopes, with mesh-backed venting to prevent sweat from building up.