'Tis the season to get your ski boots on, and if you're on the lookout for a wearable that tracks your performance while out on the slopes, there's a fair number of ski wearables out there that are focused on doing just that.
But if you're looking for something that's more dedicated to the art of skiing itself and improving your technique, then it's slim pickings right now. One wearable that wants to coach you to be better though is Carv.
Essential reading: Best outdoor watches for hikers and adventurers
This ski wearable claims to be the world's first digital ski coach, using a smart boot insert to capture motion and pressure as you descend down the snowy terrain and giving you feedback on your technique. Inspired by technology used by Olympic athletes, Carv is all about giving you access to the feedback and knowledge that only elite skiers have had access to so far; highlighting your weaknesses and helping you to become a better skier overall.
Over 2,000 units of Carv have already been sold worldwide, and after an amazing response on Kickstarter (one of the most backed wearables on the crowdfunding site ever, apparently) the device is officially out now and available to buy in mass markets.
We were at the launch of Club Med's latest resort, Grand Massif Samoens, earlier this month, joined by the the brains behind Carv, MotionMetrics, to see just how the wearable works and how it aims to improve our basic skiing knowledge.
Getting set up
Before we put Carv through its paces on the mountain side, we met with MotionMetrics CCO Ross Murray-Jones, to take us through the inner workings of the wearable.
The product is made up of two sensor units that come in the form of thin smart sole inserts, which slip underneath the liners of your ski boots. These soles feel pretty durable despite their incredibly slender structure, and measure in at under a millimetre thick so you're highly unlikely to feel them while you're out skiing. Murray-Jones tells us that each of these smart sole sensor units pack 48 independent pressure sensors, designed to pick up minute changes in the pressure distribution. This is attached to a unit that fixes to the outside of the ski boot and houses an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a magnetometer, providing the Carv system with information on the motion and orientation of the skis.
Once the inserts have been installed, they need calibrating before you're good to go. This involves setting yourself up as a new skier in the app, calibrating the unique force applied on the left and right pads by our feet while wearing the boots, and checking the pressure is reflected in the app, which lights up to show where the force is being applied on the boot as you walk (albeit clumsily in your bulky ski boots). The whole process takes around five or so minutes, and would probably be much less if we knew how to put ski boots on faster.
Murray-Jones explains the idea behind this setup is so the smart sole insert can measure your motion and pressure distribution, relaying feedback to your phone over Bluetooth, which you will then hear through your earphones in real-time. This vocal feedback gives you guidance on how you're doing, along with hints and tips on how to correct your performance, helping both amateur and professional skiers to monitor all aspects of their technique including take-offs, landings, flips and pressure distribution. This means you need to take your phone with you while skiing, which most people do anyway, and it also has to be connected to some earphones so you can hear what Carv is telling you.
So this all sounds good and well, but how does Carv fare out in the wintery white wilderness?
Once we've told the app we're ready to ski, it begins tracking our performance. We have the option to let it record everything we do and then give us a summary of our metrics once we've done on the slopes, or we can opt for a real-time coach option, that gives hints as you ski on where you could improve.
As this was our first ever time using Carv, it was important to give the system a chance to learn what type of skier we are first with a quick freestyle descent. After a jaunt down a relatively easy slope, Carv automatically knew when we'd finished our run thanks to the onboard sensors, and was ready to give us feedback by the time our frozen ass hit the ski lift.
It's important to note that the data Carv collects from your skiing technique is taken and divided into four different categories. These are: Balance, Edging, Rotation and Pressure, all of which work together to give an overall score on your ski technique. This helps skiers see where their weaknesses are, and what area of their ski technique needs the most improvement to make them better skiers overall.
Slipping out the Carv-connected smartphone from our coat pocket while on the rickety ski lift – with extra care, as we are sure you can imagine – we were given an overall score of our performance in the form of a "Ski IQ". We scored a 93, which apparently isn't too bad for novices. This number is acquired by taking into consideration the individual scores from each of the four categories. Edging for instance is identified immediately as the major weakness in our ski technique. Edging refers to the tipping of the skis onto edge, engaging them in the snow, then using them in various ways to control the nature of one's descent down the mountain.
This means that next time we reached the top of the slope, we were able to choose from a range of inbuilt real-time coaching tools aimed at improving specific skills. After our feedback, we opted for a real-time lesson aimed to improve edging technique. This is where Carv's inbuilt voice feedback really comes into its own.
On our next run, Carv automatically kicked in when we started our descent, and was able to analyse our technique, give us pointers and highlight mistakes we were making in real time, be that as simple as telling us we were leaning forward too much, or transitioning our weight over too late in the turn. It really does help to remind you of your bad habits when it matters, and thus spurs you on towards becoming a better skier. It is hard to get used to if you're a beginner like us, as you are already concentrating hard on not dying while bombing down a mountain at break-neck speeds. But the good thing here is that Carv doesn't overload you with information, offering short, relevant bites – or good or bad bleeps – when required.
Once you've had enough of the cold, you can dig a little deeper into the Carv app and the data it has collected in the warmth of the lodge, or in the bar, as it gathers your turn data and presents you an average turn map at the end of the day. This gives you a general overview that helps highlight many common mistakes (all of the data is stored in the cloud and can be exported as raw data, if you want to go deeper) as well as basic information such as average speed, fastest speed, time skiing, distance covered and descents made.
What we really like about this is that you can then use this data to keep track of your achievements, and personal bests for each ski run. Once you're well versed in using Carv, you can then challenge yourself or a friend to a technical drill for instance, and find out who is the most versatile skier.
The app also tries to gamify the skiing experience, keeping you motivated by offering up trophies for being the best skier in each resort you visit, or for improving your personal bests. We really do think this thing could change the way we ski in the future.
Working across both iOS and Android, you can expect to get around 16 hours of coaching time out of the Carv setup. We were so impressed by how well Carv worked out in these conditions and how, even after a total wipeout, it remained in place in our ski boots, thanks to its certified IP67 certifications, making it robust enough to brave the wintry elements.
The most valuable thing of Carv for skiers, however, is that it's not just a one trick pony. It is constantly tracking your ski runs, looking at your metrics as they built up and become more complex and detailed, for example taking into consideration your weight distribution, timing, the orientation and symmetry of your skis to a level of accuracy which cannot be picked up on a video. This gives you access to metrics that most skiers will never had before such as your maximum edge angle, enabling you to really drill into your technique.
Carv really is a ski wearable all out on its own. Not only does it serve up plenty of insightful data, it also wants to coach you to become better. Based on our experience, it does a pretty good job of it and has all the makings of a solid companion for both amateur and more experienced ski lovers.
How we test