Ski Tech 2019
When I was skiing last winter I was struck by the ski tech of yesteryear on display over the hot chocolate dispenser. There on the wall were a pair of boots and skis from a few decades ago that were shockingly dangerous. The short lace-up boots almost invited ankle breaks and gave little support or protection. The boots were held into place on the skis by coil springs. The skis were little more than bent wood.
Today, technology informs our boots, skis, helmets and gloves. It extends beyond our gear to our cell phones, providing new ways to learn to ski, analyze the way we ski, and to communicate on the slopes.
Interestingly, in at least one way, tech has taken a cautious step backwards. A couple of years ago goggles with "heads-up" displays were the coming thing. Well, they came and went. I can't tell you if it was because the tech was too expensive, too hard to actually see while skiing, or too distracting, or a combination of the three. Truth is, that past the announcements I was never able to get my hands on one of the sets, and now they seem to have disappeared from the marketplace to the same tech-hole that Google Glass fell into. Maybe they will come back again, but no one is talking about it. (Heads-up technology did make a splash this year in swim goggles, so the idea isn't completely down and out.)
On the safety and control front, I can't speak highly enough about the Surefoot Ski Boot system (boots from $770). They take a scan of your feet and build a replacement sole for your boots. Then after you select a boot shell, and put on the boots they inject them with a foam that molds to your feet, ankle and calf. This creates a bond between your legs, feet and skis that give unsurpassed control and comfort. Prior to getting the Surefoot system I was always complaining about pain from my boots in both the ankle, toes, and shins. I used to dread cranking them up to keep me in place. Now, I really don't mind being in my boots. They are comfortable, help me through the turns, and provide excellent support. If you're only skiing once or twice a season it may be hard to justify the price, but if you spend extended time on the slopes I think these will improve your experience better than any other add-on.
Optimally, getting ready for the slopes should begin not at the ski shop but at home or in the gym getting into overall fitness. The stronger your core, the easier time you're going to have on the hills, and the less likely you'll be to hurt yourself. YouTube is another great resource for skiers: you'll find tutorials, and also videos that show you the runs at many sites.
One way to build strength is with the Activ5 isometric exercise system (from $129). The rechargeable, app-powered Activ5 device is about the size of a hockey puck. The company provides many exercise regimes designed to build up specific muscle groups through isometric exercise. It's great because you can take it with you anywhere. The device keeps track of your development, so you can quantify the improvement and keep track of your sessions.
A device that you may be able to find at the gym (and might even want to invest in for your home) is the Profitter 3D cross trainer. Designed by a member of the Canadian ski team, the Profitter 3D cross trainer can help get your muscles and joints ready for the movements that we encounter zig-zagging down a piste. Though there is a lot of tech at work here, both in the design and construction of the device, the cross-trainer is also very old school, with lots of wood and natural shapes that give it an organic feel. In the mode I've seen it used on-line, the skier moves left and right over a graduated hump that seasaws in reaction to the exercise. In this way it simulates the motion of moving over moguls and parallel carving down the mountain. Included with the device is a DVD and exercise chart with almost two dozen different exercise patterns that can be used to exercise the legs, core and upper body strength. You can adjust the amount of resistance to increase the difficulty, and getting the hang of using the device takes some practice. Profitter says it is more like a sport than an exercise, and I agree that it almost turns a workout into a game. But, take it from me, you'll feel the burn as your legs pump up and down, left and right.
Once you get to the slopes I have a few other recommendations. First, smartphone apps like Ski Tracks ($.99) or Slopes: Ski and Snowboard (Free, but paid premium version available with extra features) will keep track of your runs, both speed, vertical drop, length of run, and more. At many slopes they will even show your runs superimposed over the map of the mountain.
Another way to integrate tech into your ski-day is with the Carv hardware/software system ($279), about to launch on December 20, in its next iteration. Though I haven't tested it yet, I was impressed with the technology when it was demonstrated to me by the company's founder. The hardware involves a foot-shaped pad filled with sensors that fits under the sole of your boot. It connects to rechargeable battery pack/transceivers that broadcast the way you're skiing to the app on your phone. (Carv claims you'll get three days' worth of skiing from a single charge.) There are several modes of use: You can get immediate input through your earphones if you're skiing well, making good turns, and carving through the snow. But, I think I'm most excited about instructor drill mode. They have worked with the head of the ski school in Aspen to identify ten areas that can be explained, drilled, and reviewed with the app. Let's say the app identifies a particular problem you're having when you turn, for instance, keeping pressure on the outside ski. The app can then comment on your issue, suggest an exercise, and then judge how well you perform it. Carv can even show you a video lesson when you're on the chair lift to help you visualize how to improve. I'll be testing the new system in 2020.