Using Oculus Rift technology, viewers are immersed into British Columbia's winter sports via interactive 3-D video. (William Au/Destination BC)
Vivid virtual experiences are infiltrating the ski industry with action-packed applications in resort marketing, athlete and instructor training, and even ski gear.
Instead of researching reviews, consumers will increasingly be able to sample ski resorts virtually to verify vacation options. Leading the way in North America is Destination BC, Canada, which launched The Wild Within VR Experience in 2014. Using Oculus Rift technology, it immersed viewers into British Columbia's winter sports via interactive 3-D video.
The cutting-edge campaign aimed to enhance brand awareness to trade, media and consumers through lifelike appreciation of the province's peaks from desk or couch.
"Since Destination BC began using VR, the technology has been embraced by consumers and industry as environmentally friendly, effective, immersive and fun — and is becoming a part of the travel landscape," says Maya Lange, president of global marketing for Destination BC. "For example, VR was just used in three flight centers in Australia to promote 'dream destinations,' including BC."
Another VR video was added last year, showcasing spring skiing at Whistler Blackcomb via the latest drone and GoPro photography.
At trade shows last summer, Ski Utah experimented with 360-degree video accessed by Google Cardboard viewers.
"Skiing or riding in Utah is an experiential activity, especially for those who have never skied or snowboarded before," says Paul Marshall, director of communications for Ski Utah. "It is an experience that not everyone can relate to or even comprehend, so utilizing the 360 videos and the Ski Utah Google Cardboards really helps simulate a real experience."
The project has produced positive feedback and results, encouraging Ski Utah to experiment with new camera technology during upcoming marketing efforts.
Demonstrating SkyTechSport Simulator at a trade show. (SkyTechSport)
Virtual reality is infiltrating snow sports' training. U.S. ski, snowboarding and freestyle athletes use the SkyTechSport simulator, which replicates the relevant sensations and G-force of descending a slope. GPS scouting can reproduce any ski resort in the world on the 6K-resolution wide-screen backdrop, adding visual reality to the biomechanical simulation.
"Ultimately, we want our simulator to have all of the ski resorts around the globe," says Alex Golunov, head of SkyTechSport U.S. "We travel from one ski area to another digitizing it and re-creating it in 3-D for the simulator."
And it's not just good for race training. "Our simulators can already re-create different snow conditions — spring snow, hard-packed snow, ice and bumps," Golunov says. "We do it through altering the physical response of skis and snowboard. On wet snow skis stick and sink and it's hard to take them from one turn to another. On ice you feel the chatter and lack of grip. We can re-create all of those sensations through the use of computer algorithms."
The Professional Ski & Snowboard Instructors Association is designing a special indoor training program using SkyTechSport simulators, which can be converted from ski to snowboard in a couple of minutes.
"They are also great for complete beginners ready to make their first attempt at skiing," says Golunov. "A good professional instructor can get a person ready for a real slope indoors. Simulators are a safe and fun way to learn balance, edge control and pressure control."
World Cup alpine ski racer and two-time Olympic medalist Andrew Weibrecht, honing skills on a SkyTechSport Simulator. (SkyTechSport)
Augmented reality (AR) is also infiltrating ski marketing. "Augmented reality allows users to see virtual information overlaid on the actual landscape either through a smartphone or smart eyewear," says Kelly Davis, director of research for Snowsports Industries America. "Imagine a world where smart eyewear brings your virtual ads into users' fields of vision as they approach your retail shop." She anticipates that the technology will be everywhere in the next three years, especially on snow.
Oakley and Smith Optics already have AR goggles on the market with direct-to-eye Recon HD displays that project information several feet away without obstructing vision. RideOn Vision has perfected software that shows speed, distance, vertical drop, navigation, friend tracking, games, challenges, camera and video capability and smartphone connectivity. Based in Israel, RideOn uses defense technology to enhance its software.
"We are a team of Israeli F-16 pilots who want to bring this technology to the consumer market and share this awesome experience with the rest of the world," says COO Tomer Cohen. The company has been working on real-time assistive techniques in order to alert users of upcoming dangers on the slopes.
"We intend to create a technology that will allow people to improve their experience with sport-related activities," says Cohen. "On top of this, thanks to our RideOn connected community feature, all sports will become a more social experience."