Just How "Smart" Is Elan's Smart Ski?

These planks have built-in sensors to track your ski dynamics and offer real-time coaching. Geeky or brilliant?

Even a ski instructor isn't going to give you feedback this personal. (Courtesy Elan)

As you might have heard by now, ski company Elan claims it’s building the world’s first-ever smart alpine ski.

The new planks will have a “flex” sensor and a “force” sensor in front of the binding and behind it, respectively. The sensors are said to track motion dynamics, such as where the skier is balanced over the ski, how much pressure the skier applies to her edges, and where (and how much) the ski flexes through the turn. The skis will also sync with your phone to give live coaching feedback. And they’ll send the data to the cloud for post-ski analysis.

Elan revealed a prototype of its Smart Ski technology in an SLX Fusion at the 2018 IPSO trade show in late January. Show participants were able to test out the model and, according to an Elan press release, “Through the sensation of skiing movements, the Smart Ski captured immediate data and recorded on a nearby computer screen.”

If all those details sound a little vague, well, they are. The company was cagey when we asked a representative for more information about the sensors, simply saying they are “carefully selected from our suppliers.” As for the ski itself, it’s still very much a prototype. Working production models likely won’t be available for some time, according to Elan. The company declined to give us a more exact launch date.

Elan isn’t the first company to dabble in the smart-ski market. In 2014, Madshus debuted a pair of cross-country skis equipped with a chip that stored information about the ski (weight, camber, flex), which could be used to better match a customer with the ideal set of boards. The chip also tracked workouts—metrics like distance, speed, and location—and offered waxing advice. We’ve seen the launch of several smart goggles, some of which have fared better than others on the market.

Elan’s offering, though, is the first alpine ski with integrated technology. At first, the tech will be limited to skis of Elan’s choosing. But because the sensors can be housed in any ski, the company claims, the technology could one day be compatible with other brands’ products. (Elan doesn’t hold the patent on the sensors; the company is licensing the tech from a third party, though again, it declined to name the third party.)

Of course, it’s hard to say just how useful the ski-dynamics tracking will be. World cup skiers have experienced coaches, who (we hope) offer better advice than a sensor. Elan says it anticipates its primary customers will be the “high-end, techy consumer,” which seems about right. As for the average skier, she might just prefer to ski without all the gadgetry.

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