I’m an Expert Skier. I Took Lessons from an App.
Despite decades of advanced-level experience, I was surprised at how much I learned from Carv’s digital ski coach
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
When people ask me if I like using my Carv digital ski coach, I tell them, “Yes, but it has strained my friendships.”
That’s not a lie. Imagine inviting me to go skiing, and as you’re confiding something important to me on the chairlift—about your affair, say, or how obsessed you are with your new teardrop trailer—I keep responding distractedly, “Yeah? Oh yeah?” while fiddling with something in my pocket. Or worse, we get to the top of a run, and just as we’re about to do the one thing that makes your life worth living, I yell, “Wait one sec! I need to calibrate my boots!”
Fumbling for my phone, I open my Carv app and go to “Calibrate.” I click on an image of my right or left boot sole, then begin teetering precariously on one foot while lifting the other and waving it from side to side. When Carv tells me I’m calibrated (meaning… I’m not sure what), I repeat the process on leg two. Only then am I ready to drop into whatever run we’re about to ski—that perfect corduroy, beckoning us to tear downhill at 40 miles an hour; or 1,200 feet of bumps, softened by the early-afternoon sun; or first tracks through six inches of untouched powder, which we showed up 90 minutes early for. But first I need to hit the record button, so that Carv can collect data on my skiing.
Exasperated, you take off before I’m finished. That’s OK, because like Samantha did for Theodore Twombly in the AI rom-com Her, Alex, my Carv girlfriend, croons lovingly. “Are you ready to ski, Tracy? Let’s do this,” she says. As this scenario repeats itself throughout the course of our ski day, I become more and more annoying. But I won’t apologize, because Carv is improving my skiing.
I’ve believed myself to be a shredder since I was a 12-year-old riding the ski bus sans parents to 500-acre Pomerelle Mountain in southern Idaho. But aside from one season, when I trained a few times with a masters race coach for a story, I’ve pretty much improved my skills through feel, which isn’t ideal. (Well, that plus chasing around my husband, a former ski racer and cat-ski guide, and asking him to teach me how to ski steeps without overturning or to watch me carve and critique me.)
That’s why I latched on to Carv when the brand’s PR rep sent me a unit this past winter. Setting it up was easy: all I had to do was insert the pair of footbeds it came with into my alpine boot shells and attach battery packs the size of old-school flip phones to my power straps. Sensors in the footbeds then talked to the app on my iPhone; as I pressured my skis through each turn, the app picked up on my various deficiencies. (The device itself is $149, and the app costs $199 a year.)
Right off the bat, it humbled me. When I ski groomers, I feel like I’m going a least 50 miles an hour. Carv, however, clocked me at just 37.5. I also thought I had a pretty solid Ski IQ (Carv’s lingo for how good you are). But early on, I was consistently ranking in the high eighties, compared with the highest score recorded, 165. According to the app, my score put me in the Green Guru level. This was so disconcerting that I begged my favorite ski partner, Stephanie—a bona fide ripper who raced on the same high school team as accomplished big-mountain freerider Chris Davenport—to tell me how bad I was, no stroking my ego.
“Tracy! You’re a beautiful skier! Incredibly smooth,” she said. “You may jump up a bit side to side and not dig your edges in enough, but you’re one of the best women I ski with!” Then, because I needed more assurance that I’m not dog breath on PTEX, I had her try out my system—my boots, my skis, and my Carv app on my phone.
Shockingly, Stephanie ranked in the Green Guru category for her first few runs, too. But then she started concentrating on carving and jumped to Carv Cadet (level three of 20). With her every improvement, my self-confidence dipped lower. Why was I skiing so poorly (according to Alex), when I felt like a soaring bald eagle chasing Steph down the slopes? I’m a perfectionist, so a few days later I went out again with the single goal of scoring above 88.
Carv offers all kinds of tips on how to improve your skiing. The two it gave me consistently were to initiate my turns earlier and to ski with my legs parallel. “Take the energy from the old, turn to the new,” it advised. And “imagine you are skiing on railway tracks.”
I started playing with these, dialing way back on my run choice—from blacks to a green. Then I intentionally incorporated another of Carv’s lessons: Alex kept telling me I needed to improve my “edge similarity,” so I clicked the “Show Me How” button on my phone and read about it.
I 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 freedom of movement to angulate further and reach higher edge angles.” A common problem many skiers have is that they try to edge just by angulating at the hip (something I’ve been taught to do throughout 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 rebound from turn to turn.
As soon as I started doing this, my flow improved, thanks to more rounded turns and more connection to the snow. My knees also pointed headlight-style down the slope, and I could feel myself initiating earlier. Lo and behold, when Stephanie and I got back on the lift and I checked my Ski IQ, I’d leapt up two levels, to a Carv Cadet with a score of 115.
Alex adjusted her coaching to my new expertise and gave me some new tips to incorporate. “Experiment with faster speeds to topple your legs 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 a few more green runs and kept my score above 115. Then I took what I’d learned to a blue run and then black run. On each, my score dropped back down into the mid-nineties. My clear struggle is carving when I’m flying downhill. I can still tackle black groomers and double-black trees; I just can’t do it as well when I’m hauling.
But it’s also important to remember that carving isn’t the point in that kind of terrain, where jump turning, floating, and straight lining are much more helpful. What’s more, on some of the best skis out there—like Atomic’s Bent Chetler—you wouldn’t want to carve. Ski with a jibby style? You’d suck, according to Carv. Not a fan of turning? Don’t bother with the app. The point of Carv is to teach you to turn. That’s best done on groomers. But there’s so much more to skiing than what’s happening with your boots and skis, like mindset, aggressiveness, and overall flow. So while the app does drill down on the fundamentals of turning, it’s probably not for skiers who want to dive into 45-degree chutes, float through powder-filled glades, or etch down cliff faces.
Ultimately, Stephanie and I don’t really care if we carve like cadets when freeskiing together. She texted me after her test and said as much: “Having an app or devices on you like this takes away from the Zen of skiing, when you’re in the moment and not thinking about how well you did or how you can improve. You’re just going and feeling. That’s what I love about skiing.”
I always want to improve myself—it’s a gift and a curse. And I know there’s a lot I can fix about my skiing. Carv definitely helped me identify this and showed me how to get better. Sometimes, when my kid is at ski team and I’m alone for the day, I don’t mind the opportunity to work on technique. But I also love just going out and ripping around with my expert friends. During those times, I don’t want to be thinking about improvement, but about how great skiing feels.
So my final assessment of Carv is this: it’s great for beginners just learning to ski (Outside had someone test it for just that purpose), for intermediates wanting to level up or learn to carve as opposed to slide, and for perfection-obsessed experts. Personally, I’ll keep using it on days when I’m skiing alone and hankering to improve.
But when it’s time to go out and fly through the clouds, I’ll ditch Alex for freedom. Chances are, thanks to Carv, I’ll get that—with better technique.