Today, we are excited to announce that for the past couple years, STRIVR has been working with U.S. Ski & Snowboard, the Park City, UT-based national governing body for ski and snowboard in the USA. STRIVR has teamed up with the High Performance division of U.S. Ski & Snowboard to use VR to enhance athlete prep for competitions that take place around the world.
It all started when we got connected with Troy Taylor, the High Performance Director at U.S. Ski & Snowboard. After a few weeks of thinking about how STRIVR could help the sport of skiing (given our success with sports like football and basketball), we started working with Troy and his team, both with athletes competing in World Cup events and those rehabilitating from injury back at the organization’s Park City Center of Excellence HQ.
Why VR is great for skiing
The sport of ski racing appears simple, but there are multiple layers of detail that combine to make all four Alpine disciplines incredibly complicated (they are: Downhill and Super G, known as ‘speed’ disciplines, and Giant Slalom and Slalom, known as ‘tech’ disciplines). One of the key aspects is how athletes and coaches can prepare for competition, knowing they have an incredibly limited amount of time on each race course before competition starts. However, we believe we have found the answer: virtual reality. Capturing a run on a racecourse in VR would allow the athletes to re-live the course over and over again, clearly giving them a significant benefit. As we’ve seen with our other customers, VR is the next best thing to actually being there.
“The ski team’s use of VR falls into the “no brainer” category for use cases in virtual reality,” says Jeremy Bailenson, our co-founder and director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University. “One of the rules of thumb I use for VR is that the technology is especially useful for teachable moments that are rare in the physical world. Getting mere minutes to prepare on the ski race course is the definition of rare. But with VR, the scarcity issue is greatly diminished. U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes are able to relive the exact course as many times as they want, in a VR simulation environment that to their brain responds to in a similar manner to real skiing.”
Through VR, U.S. Ski & Snowboard now has “mental access” to each course their athletes compete on, meaning they can mentally prepare for the race they are going to ski: the positions of the gates, the terrain, the way the turns appear—all this mental prep and visualization is crucial to this sport at the highest level. And before STRIVR, it was impossible to get these repetitions unless you just closed your eyes (and who knows how well that would turn out). Now it’s completely possible, and very advantageous for the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team.
Taylor was instrumental in helping pave the way for U.S. Ski & Snowboard to get into VR. “The value of the work we do with STRIVR is confirmed in the feedback we have from our athletes and their coaches taking part in World Cup events who feel 360 video and VR increases both the confidence and performance of the athletes in events,” he says. “The athletes are using 360 video and VR in multiple ways in competition, from inspections of the race course, helping athletes learn the lines they will race through, to helping athletes rehabilitate from injuries.”
Added Bailenson: “U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes should have a strategic advantage because they have been able to not just visualize the course, but practice it over and over again, going over decision points such as turns, and recognizing landmarks on the course.
“In addition to rehearsing body motions and decisions, they will have an overall, holistic familiarity with the course, which will be invaluable as they traverse the actual mountain. I suspect that their mental preparation will be unmatched.”
With the athletes’ competitive season now in full swing (including a very big event upcoming), we can’t wait to see how everything turns out for them. We’ve seen some great results from our football and basketball athletes and we expect the same out of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team.