And yet, Carv is surprisingly addictive. Even on the free-ski mode I find myself concentrating hard on every turn in order to up my score for the run — especially given the league table feature that ranks you against other users in real time, whether they be alongside you or anywhere else in the world. A combination of barometer and GPS tells the system when we are taking a lift, and on the T-bar Grant and I compare scores. (He skis at speed and spends much of the time waiting for me at the bottom — “I started a company that analyses turns but I really like going straight.”).
Warmed up, I begin on Carv’s drills. First a session on edging. I start on level 12 of 20, and will go up to the next level only if 16 out of 20 consecutive turns meet the standard. I quickly start to hear the gratifying chimes, but then the voice warns “Try not to make an A-frame with your legs”. This is a bolt from the blue: after years of struggle I thought I had long since ironed out my A-frame — when inside knee moves to meet the outer as you turn. That the system picks out this failing is as impressive as it is dispiriting. It’s also uncanny — I can’t escape the feeling that it is somehow watching me. (In fact, Grant tells me later, the A-frame is inferred because of a disparity in the angle of my inner and outer ski.)
The 48 pressure sensors under each foot can tell if your weight is forward or back at the right point of the turn and whether you are transferring the weight smoothly from ski to ski. The movement of the phone in your jacket pocket can tell if your upper body position is correctly facing the fall line. An accelerometer, gyroscope and electronic compass, hidden in a tiny chip under each instep, can monitor edge angles, tempo, the symmetry of turns and much more. But finally, with a “Great job!” Carv announces I have completed the level, and by tapping my glove on my earphone twice, I move up to the next one.
So far, professionals have been positive — both racers, including British number one Dave Ryding and former US moguls world champion Jeremy Bloom, and instructors. When the company launched a Kickstarter campaign, members of the US ski team and the Professional Ski Instructors of America association saw it and invited Grant and Reddy to a training camp in California. Some of the PSIA’s star skiers, including Jonathan Ballou, head of the Aspen ski school, have helped develop the drills and skied with the system to provide benchmark data. “I guess you could say they are turkeys voting for Christmas,” says Grant, “but I think they genuinely just want to get more people into skiing.”
Carv can’t predict avalanches, so you’ll still need a guide or instructor off piste. It can’t teach beginners, it can’t direct you to the best mountain restaurants, it can’t carry your skis and it certainly can’t flirt in an endearing French accent. But it does win on price: a single day with a private instructor would typically cost about £500 in the Alps, much more in the US. If bought before December, Carv’s footbeds and app cost £229 — and the company is in discussions with major bootmakers to incorporate the technology into off-the-shelf “smart boots”, for both retail and rental. Beyond that, there are other potential applications in sports such as cycling, running and golf, as well as in medicine. The sensors are already being incorporated in the braces used to treat scoliosis, to give doctors quantifiable data rather than relying on patient interviews.
Even at those prices, instructors’ jobs are probably safe for now — Carv is more an added extra for the keen intermediate eager to accelerate their progress. But it is learning all the time — every turn you have ever made is stored in its servers, so the programme can begin to identify which instructions and drills you respond best to, as well as comparing you to other skiers of a similar type. Grant makes comparisons with the way Spotify gets to know what kind of music users like, and the way AI is being used by education companies. “The endgame is that everything is optimised just for you,” he says.
At the end of the day we take the series of cable cars back down to the valley, from winter back to summer — in the car park it is 21C and there is a smell of warm hay. Google and its billions may not have come knocking just yet — Grant and Reddy are staying in the cheapest hotel in town — but there’s little doubt the information age has arrived in the mountains.
Tom Robbins was a guest of Inghams and the Tirol tourist board. Inghams offers a week’s stay at the four-star Alpenhotel Kramerwirt in Mayrhofen, just down the valley from Hintertux, from £839 per person, half-board including flights from London and transfers. For more info visit Carv.
WHERE ELSE TO SKI NOW
Apart from Hintertux, Zermatt is the only other Alpine resort that still offers skiing 365 days a year (weather permitting), writes Fraser Wilkin. Topping out at a lofty 3,899m, the runs here are not only the highest in the Alps but also wonderfully scenic. Right now the skiing remains limited to a handful of pistes at the top of the Klein Matterhorn but, with heavy snow in the forecast for the coming days, more terrain should open soon — both in Zermatt itself and on the Italian side of the ski area, above Cervinia.
Charming, traffic-free Saas-Fee has long been a popular choice for autumn skiing. Encircled by 4,000m peaks, the glacier here conserves its snow better than most. Its terrain is also slightly steeper than in nearby Zermatt, making it well-suited for race training. Saas-Fee’s glacier may not open until midsummer (this year it opened on July 14) but it then stays open throughout autumn and continues into winter. saas-fee.ch
The French ski season finally got under way on October 17 with the opening of two pistes on the Grande Motte glacier above Tignes. These had been scheduled to open on September 29, but another torrid summer had led to threadbare pistes, and the resort simply had to wait until some new snow freshened things up. The runs are currently hard-packed, but things should improve considerably with further snow in the forecast, and resort authorities will always open the long red down to Val Claret will be opened as soon as possible
Austria’s largest lift-served glacier is also the closest to Innsbruck airport (44km), making it one of the easiest glaciers to reach from many European cities. It opened on October 6. So far, only a handful of its highest pistes have been on offer, but once it is fully operational the area is one of the best early season bets in the Alps with a top to bottom vertical of 1,500m. stubaier-
Like everywhere else in the Alps, snow cover is a bit thin on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier above Kaprun, in the Austrian state of Salzburg. It opened on October 12; only four pistes have been operating this week, although it is currently possible to ski to the 2,450m “Alpincentre” mid-station. More snow is forecast this weekend.
The best bet in the US now is Wolf Creek in Colorado, which opened on October 13 with 75cm of new snow and 960 acres of skiable terrain. It may be a long way from any major population centres (four hours from Colorado Springs and Albuquerque, and four and a half from Denver) and is only open at weekends, but those prepared to go the distance will find great snow and precious few other skiers sharing it.
Those looking for a shorter journey from Denver should try Loveland, which opened on October 19. There may only be one trail in operation, just as at Arapahoe Basin, but Loveland’s is longer and less crowded. Both these areas have seen some natural snow in recent weeks but, unlike Wolf Creek, neither would be operational if they hadn’t had artificial back-up.
In the eastern US, Killington has been open daily since October 19, thanks to its world-famous snow-making operation. Three steep north-facing runs of about 200m vertical are available from its top chair, with uploading and downloading via the resort’s main gondola.