The US ski and snowboard team has been using VR to prepare for the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea.
The team has partnered with STRIVR, the company that has been working with teams in the NFL, NBA and a number of college football teams to integrate VR into their training regimens. Despite its work in a wide range of sporting environments, however, the company had never tried to come up with a solution for a downhill course.
Skiing and snowboarding are sports that are suited to VR, particularly in a professional sense. In terms of training, teams competing internationally often have a very limited amount of time to practice on a particular course before the beginning of the competition.
The STRIVR solution answers this by allowing the athletes to experience the course as many times as they want before they even leave their own country.
“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.”
The key to the effectiveness of utilising VR for Olympic skiing and snowboarding is giving athletes the rare commodity of “mental access” to a course. The importance of this cannot be understated, the VR solution gives them a feel for the position of the gates, what the terrain looks like and how the turns appear. All of this contributes to giving athletes a distinct mental edge over some of their competitors.
The solution can also help them hone strategy, as they can work out exactly what the best lines to tackle the course are and drill them repeatedly.
“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,” said Bailenson.
“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.”