This App Taught Me How to Ski in Two Days
Carv’s digital coaching software uses insoles with pressure sensors to give you real-time feedback. But can it really help first-timers improve?
Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
I am a high-level snowboarder but a relatively new skier. The sum total of my experience: two half-day lessons three years ago, and then another half-day two years ago. So when I was offered the chance to try Carv, a program that uses sensor-equipped insoles to give you digital ski coaching, I said sure. Nowhere to go but up.
The device ($149 for the device and basic analysis functions, plus a $199 annual subscription for the more detailed coaching services) consists of an insole with a long, thin wire running up to a small, rectangular battery pack that clips onto the outside of your ski boot. A whopping 36 sensors per foot measure exactly how much pressure you’re putting on your ski and how that pressure breaks down across your foot. Meanwhile, the battery pack is also equipped with an accelerometer and gyroscope to track things like speed and angular velocity, plus a Bluetooth radio chip that sends all that information to an app.
The app then translates all that combined data to show you exactly how each of your ski boots is oriented in space, where and how hard you’re pressuring each ski, how well you’re initiating each turn, and to what degree you’re getting your skis on edge. That information gets tallied up to calculate what Carv calls Ski:IQ, a zero-to-165 scale for categorizing your skiing ability. In addition to that score, the data-based app identifies your biggest deficiencies and then gives you one or two tips to improve, either at the end of each run or turn by turn. For every tip, there’s an accompanying video you can watch on the chairlift back up. The videos feature high-level coaches like Tom Waddington, Tomass Marnics, and Tom Gellie and are easy to follow. In other words, it’s basically like having a tiny ski coach inside your boot who sees and feels everything.
I spent two days in Aspen testing the system—one day at Buttermilk and one at Snowmass. First, the app advised me to spend my first few runs in Free Ski mode with the audio coach turned off. Basically, you just ski without any feedback so the system can establish a baseline. My baseline Ski:IQ was pretty terrible: in the 50 to 55 range, which put me squarely at the bottom of Level 1. After that, I turned on the audio coach and things started to change.
Each run is automatically broken up by the individually named segments—that is, the trails—at any given resort. (Carv comes preloaded with more than 1,000 resort maps.) After each run or segment, the audio coach would tell me my new Ski:IQ and offer me one tip to make the biggest difference. My biggest problem, it seemed, was that I wasn’t fully finishing my turns. The audio coach advised me to finish by really pressing through my heels, as if I were trying to “push them through some heavy sand.” The image worked. Quickly, I felt more control and better able to carry speed into the next turn. My numbers started improving, as did my confidence.
Over the course of the next couple days I would get digital advice on my edge pressure, how long to draw out my turns, how to shift my weight from edge to edge, and how to rotate my hips properly. I also played with some of the training modes, which focus on one specific skill and give you audio feedback on a turn-by-turn basis as you go. There are such modes for carving, pivot slips, outside-edge ski turns, and balance. Next, I tried the Edge Angle Challenge mode, which directs you to drive through your knees to really get your skis up on edge.
By day two I’d gone from barely picking my way down green runs to charging blues at speeds above 33 miles per hour (yes, the app measures that, too). Toward the end of my second day, I flew down my final runs back in Free Ski mode with my Ski:IQ scores now in the upper eighties, which I was told was a huge improvement for a day and a half. Ultimately, I didn’t really care about the numbers—this was the first time I was really having fun on skis.
That day, a surprise storm dumped knee-deep powder. Normally that would send me running for my snowboard—which I did after lunch—but I wasn’t ready to do so right away. Carv had gotten me to a level where I was able to get down some steep, lumpy, powder-covered blues and come out hooting and hollering. It wasn’t pretty, but I didn’t objectively suck.
Now, for the first time in my life, when someone asks me if I can ski, I can just say yes.
Note that to get all of the digital coaching, training videos, and detailed metrics, you need to buy a membership, which costs $199 a year on top of the $149 base cost for the Carv system. That might sound steep, but consider how expensive ski lessons are: often hundreds just for one day. I’m glad I had a human instructor for my very first ski lesson all those years ago, but even the best ski coach can’t see every single turn, and they certainly can’t feel what’s going on inside your boot. I found that nuanced information really helped me level up beyond the foundational skills I’d learned through in-person instruction.
I think there’s also a lot of benefit in combining Carv with a traditional ski lesson. The metrics this technology provides can give your instructor a lot of insight into how you’re skiing and may help them steer you in the right direction for faster progress.
Since my testing in December I’ve recommended Carv to a bunch of different friends who, like me, are new to skiing. Several have reported positive experiences and dramatic improvement. That being said, I haven’t yet recommended it to any of the good skiers I know, because, frankly, I’m not qualified to. Thankfully, an expert skier also volunteered to test Carv technology for Outside.