Go get ‘em tiger.” These weren’t the words I was expecting to hear before whizzing off down a pisted run. They were the dulcet female tones of my digital instructor relayed through Bluetooth headphones, who I had quickly nicknamed Carvella.
I was on the glacier slopes of Stubai in Austria in mid November trying out the latest version of the world’s first digital instructor. Called Carv 2.0 – trendily misspelt without the ‘e’ on the end – it’s the brainchild of Jamie Grant and co-founder Pruthvikar Reddy. They had the idea in 2013, raised £80,000 within four months from investors, and following intense research and development launched the first version of Carv in December 2017.
It works by using a robust insert that fits between the shell of your ski boots and the liner and gathers data from 48 pressure sensitive pads, and nine motion sensors. This data is fed to a connected match-box size tracker unit, sitting on the back of your boots, before being relayed via Bluetooth to the Carv App on your phone. It currently works with the Apple operating system, with Android scheduled for the 2019/2020 season. Even a technophobe like me found it easy to set up.
Between these three components Carv is able to measure your speed, acceleration and ski orientation a staggering 300 times a second and thanks to a complex set of algorithms this data is then converted into an easy to follow graphic display on your phone’s screen as well as verbal feedback from Carvella. You can choose between 16 other voices to hear instruction but having already been smitten, the thought of listening to alternatives felt like cheating.
It does take a little time for Carvella to get to know you – three runs to be precise. That was how many I completed on the 1.4km long Eisjochferner blue with Grant, a physics graduate from Oxford with a PhD in Financial Economics and a season in Whistler under his belt, to give the App enough data to assess my skiing level and build a profile of my data ski self.
There are 20 levels starting at one for near beginners up to 20 for top-qualified ski instructors. After my third run on skis for the first time in seven months – I’m getting my excuses in early here – Carvella selected middle-ranking level 10 for me. This was the first, and only bump, in our blossoming relationship.
Failing to hide my modest disappointment with my ranking Grant said, “The program is designed to make it easy for you to start. We don’t want it to be discouraging.” Hmm, he didn’t get to be a CEO in his young thirties, raising thousands of pounds for a start-up, for nothing I concluded.
The App has two different modes and I started trialling the Free Session one. In Grant’s words, “It highlights low hanging fruit, the most obvious areas to improve.” It also gives you a ski IQ score to indicate how well you skied a particular run – 100 is the average.
In my case the low hanger was edging. As I sat in the gondola after my first run, heading back to the summit, Carvella said, “Great run! Your Ski IQ was 115. 1.4 km skied on Eisjochferner. Next run, focus on keeping your edges at the same angle to avoid an A-frame in your legs.”
Buoyed with enthusiasm and a desire not to disappoint my digital instructor, I took the gondola back to the top of the run eager to hear what would be said after my next descent. I completed it, without stopping, focussing intently on avoiding my knees falling inward and A-framing as much as possible and was rewarded with, “ Nice run! Your Ski IQ was 117, you improved your edge similarity by 1% to 35% – great job.” Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day. “On this next run focus on keeping pressure on your outside ski throughout each turn.”
The analysis at the end of the run and tips on how to improve on the next attempt were spot on. Once I’d completed it I was already nudging, smugly, into the low 120s.
But the second app mode, Training, was what I really wanted to try, because it gives on-the-move, instant feedback. Based on previous runs, Carv recommends one of four areas where you should focus, with the childishly entertaining acronym BERP: Balance (how you’re standing on your skis); Edging (self-explanatory); Rotary (how you move parts of your body in relation to others); and Pressure (exerting pressure in the correct place and on the outside ski).
The ski instructors among you will know BERP is the foundation block of instruction formulated by the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA). This is not a coincidence.
Those clever bods at Carv – all seven are graduates from Oxford or Cambridge, most with first-class degrees – work closely with the PSIA demonstration team. Grant regularly skis with its captain Michael Rogan, to assess what he is looking for in top skiers, and fits him and the demo team with the Carv app to gain a digital footprint of what that should look like.
The Carv team uses that information to create an algorithm for its Ski:IQ and the basis for its instruction. In Grant’s words, “We design the system around the concepts the demo team knows are important, and then calibrate the system based on their own data.” It’s like having your skiing benchmarked against one of the world’s best (Rogan) and then being given tailored tips, through instant feedback, to make you ski a little bit more like him. The green zone targets, clearly shown on the App is where skiers like Michael always sit.
Unfortunately there was no risk of me hitting the green zone in the Training mode, when Carv selected edging as the area where I should focus. As I stood about to start my first run Carvella said, “Hi Henry, let’s carve up the slopes.” And we did… four times on the same run with her providing regular feedback such as “Edge your skis together” and “Remember to keep your lateral movement”.
Whenever I completed a turn successfully the App would make a schwing noise, common to all gamers, and offer encouraging words like “nice turn”, “beautiful skiing”, and of course “go get ‘em tiger”. I thought I might find the regular feedback irritating, but it wasn’t, thanks to the clear, engaging voice. Also it was spaced well enough not to become overwhelming.
The feedback really made me concentrate on how I was skiing and in the time Carvella and I had together I really felt my carving improve. With the App though the proof comes from the sole, and its two other data collecting components, and the result was positive. I’d progressed from level 10 to 13. Result.
So how does Carv 2.0 differ from the original App. “We’ve moved from giving more standard instructions to give more tailored personalised feedback with the coaching adapting to patterns in your skiing and the level of the piste,” said Grant. Carv has yet to gain enough data to give instructions specifically for powder skiing, but it’s planned to be included in later versions as is voice activation.
“Our ultimate goal is to be the Alexa of skiing. This season the App has become adaptive, next season you’ll be able to speak to it,” explained Grant.
Does Carv mean the end of ski instruction as we know it? Absolutely not. Grant is the first to say it’s not suited for absolute beginners, “At the very least, users must be comfortable skiing around the resort on a blue run.”
I believe real-life instruction will always have a place, if for no other reason than we’re social beasts who like to learn in the company of others. But Carv has created a game-changing device that used as a complement to lessons, really could transform your skiing.
Need to know
Carv 2.0 is available exclusively from Carv’s website for £229. A week’s half-board in the four-star Bergdristall Hotel in Stubai costs from €684 including afternoon tea, free use of the spa areas (saunas and swimming pool) and fitness room, and six-day ski pass. Private transfer with Four Seasons Travel. Prices on request.