I am an expert skier. The Carv app has taught me a lot again.
When people ask me if I like using my Carv digital ski coach, I tell them, “Yeah, but it’s put a strain on my friendships.
It is not a lie. Imagine you invite me to go skiing and confide something important to me on the chairlift – about your affair, say, or how obsessed you are with your new teardrop trailer – I keep on answer distractedly: “Yeah? Oh yeah?” while fiddling with something in my pocket. Or worse, we get to the top of a race, and just when we’re about to do the one thing that makes your life worth living, I yell, “Wait a second! I need to calibrate my shoes!”
Looking for my phone, I open my Carv app and go to “Calibrate”. I click an image of the sole of my right or left boot, then begin to wobble precariously on one foot while lifting the other and wiggling it from side to side. When Carv tells me I’m calibrated (ie…I don’t know what), I repeat the process on the second step. Only then am I ready to hit whatever trail we’re about to ski—that perfect corduroy, inviting us to blast down the slope at 40 miles per hour; or 1,200 feet of bumps, softened by the early afternoon sun; or the first runs through six inches of untouched powder, for which we showed up 90 minutes early. But I have to hit the record button first so Carv can collect data on my ski.
Exasperated, you leave before I finish. That’s okay, because like Samantha did for Theodore Twombly in the romantic comedy AI His, Alex, my girlfriend Carv, sings with love. “Are you ready to ski, Tracy?” Let’s do it,” she said. As this scenario repeats itself throughout our ski day, I become more and more boring. But I won’t apologize because Carv is improving my skiing.
I’ve considered myself a chipper since I was 12, on the parentless ski bus up the 500-acre Pomerelle Mountain in southern Idaho. But aside from one season, where I trained a few times with a master race coach for a story, I’ve improved my skills quite a bit through feel, which isn’t ideal. (Well, that’s more running around my husband, a former ski racer and cat-skiing guide, and asking him to teach me how to ski steep hills without tipping over or watching me carve and criticize myself.)
That’s why I hung onto Carv when the brand’s PR rep sent me a unit last winter. Installation was easy: all I had to do was insert the included pair of insoles into my alpine boot shells and attach old school flip phone sized batteries to my straps power supply. Sensors in the insoles then communicated with the app on my iPhone; As I pressured my skis through each turn, the app detected my various shortcomings. (The device itself costs $149 and the app costs $199 per year.)
Right from the start, it humbled me. When I ski on groomers, I feel like I’m going at least 50 an hour. Carv, however, clocked me at just 37.5. I also thought I had a pretty solid ski IQ (Carv lingo for how good you are). But at first, I consistently ranked in the 80s, compared to the highest score on record, 165. According to the app, my score put me at the Green Guru level. It was so disconcerting that I begged my favorite ski buddy, Stephanie — a bonafide ripper who raced on the same high school team as accomplished big-mountain freerider Chris Davenport — to tell me how much I was bad, without stroking my ego.
“Tracy! You are a beautiful skier! Incredibly smooth,” she said. “You may jump a little side to side and not dig in your edges enough, but you are one of the best women I’ve ever skied with!” Then, because I needed more reassurance that I’m not dog breath on PTEX, I asked him to try out my system – my boots, my skis, and my Carv app on my phone.
Surprisingly, Stephanie also placed in the Green Guru category for her first races. But then she started focusing on carving and jumped to Carv Cadet (level three out of 20). With each improvement, my self-confidence plummeted. Why was I skiing so badly (according to Alex), when I felt like a hovering bald eagle chasing Steph down the slopes? I’m a perfectionist, so a few days later I came away with the sole aim of scoring above 88.
Carv offers all sorts of tips to improve your skiing. The two that it consistently gave me were initiating my turns earlier and skiing with parallel legs. “Take the energy from the old, turn to the new,” he advised. And “imagine you’re skiing on train tracks”.
I started playing around with these, backtracking on my race choice – from blacks to greens. Then I intentionally incorporated another of Carv’s lessons: Alex kept telling me I needed to improve my “edge similarity”, so I hit the “Show me how” button on my phone and I read about it.
I’ve learned that edge similarity is key to arcing, “because it allows your two skis to work together to provide better balance, instead of fighting each other.” The app went on to explain, “For carving turns, a high edge similarity score will give you greater range of motion to lean more and achieve higher edge angles.” A common problem with many skiers is that they try to edge just by tilting the hip (which I’ve learned to do over the years). But the edge similarity video showed me that rolling your inside knee toward the hill improves your grip on the snow and helps you bounce back from turn to turn.
As soon as I started doing that, my flow improved, thanks to rounder turns and more connection to the snow. My knees were also pointing downhill, and I could feel myself starting earlier. Lo and behold, when Stephanie and I got back on the lift and I checked my Ski IQ, I had jumped two levels, down to a Carv Cadet with a score of 115.
Alex adapted his coaching to my new expertise and gave me some new advice to integrate. “Experiment with faster gears to knock your legs out faster and further at the start of each new turn,” she said. (“Toppling” was a new term for me too. I watched a video about it on the app. It means moving your center of gravity to initiate edging.) I did some extra green runs and I kept my score above 115. Then I took what I learned on a blue run and then on a black run. Each time my score has dropped back into the mid 90s. My obvious struggle is carving when flying downhill. I can still tackle black groomers and black double trees; I can’t do it as well when I’m transporting.
But it’s also important to remember that carving isn’t the point in this type of terrain, where jump turns, float and the straight are much more useful. Also, on some of the best skis, like Atomic’s Bent Chetler, you wouldn’t want to carve. Skiing with a jibby style? You suck, according to Carv. Not a fan of filming? Don’t bother with the app. Carv’s goal is to teach you how to spin. This is best done on groomers. But there’s so much more to skiing than what’s going on with your boots and skis, like mindset, aggressiveness and overall fluidity. So while the app delves into the fundamentals of turning, it’s probably not intended for skiers who want to dive down 45-degree drops, float through powder-filled clearings, or carve cliffs.
In the end, Stephanie and I don’t really care about carving like caddies when we freeski together. She texted me after her test and said, “Having an app or devices like this on you takes the zen out of skiing, when you’re in the moment and not thinking about what you have done or how you can improve. You will just feel. That’s what I love about skiing.
I always want to improve, it’s a gift and a curse. And I know there are a lot of things I can adjust on my ski. Carv definitely helped me identify this and showed me how to improve. Sometimes when my kid is on the ski team and I’m alone for the day, I don’t mind the opportunity to work on technique. But I also like to hang out and rip with my expert friends. During these times, I I want to think about the improvement, but about the feeling of skiing well.
So my final evaluation of Carv is: it’s great for beginners learning to ski (Outside someone tested it for that purpose), for intermediates who want to level up or learn to carve rather than slide, and for experts obsessed with perfection. Personally, I will continue to use it on days when I ski alone and want to improve.
But when it’s time to get out there and fly through the clouds, I’ll give up Alex for freedom. Thanks to Carv, there’s a good chance I’ll get that, with better technique.