Snowboard Canada took a step into the future last week.
The national sport organization debuted its new RFID camera system at the Sport Chek Air Nation Freestyle Nationals. Riders attach tags to their helmets, and though cameras are running the entire time, the tags trigger the system to portion off the footage of each run into separate files. Snowboard Canada's system has six cameras and two readers, which can be set up on a course.
The cameras are made by SportRFID, a company born in Italy but now headquartered in Canada, tapping two-time Olympic snowboarder Crispin Lipscomb as its president.
Snowboard Canada's manager of business operations, Brendan Matthews, explained the new set-up would help high-level coaches and athletes.
"It really stemmed from our sport development department," Matthews said, adding the project has been in development for over two years. "What they were looking to do is create a talent ID system, or something along those lines, where we would say if you want to be eligible for a provincial team or a national team, we're looking for all of these skills in a snowboarder.
"Previously, we had to have all coaches self-report: 'Hey, my athletes can do this and this, you should take a look at them.'"
Matthews doesn't feel the self-reporting system was abused, but explained the cameras and direct uploads to the overseeing body will help to create a much greater level of consistency. He noted there is a level of subjectivity associated with each coach, and the labour-intensive approach could also be problematic.
"If you had a camera system that could just catalogue footage, then they could go, 'Show me these 10 skills,' have the athletes ride past the cameras, do those 10 tricks, and then you could just upload them," he explained. "We could check them out and say, 'This kid might be worth checking out.'"
Snowboard Canada had approached Sport Chek about funding the cost of the project, but Matthews declined to disclose its cost. The last six months have been spent perfecting the system, finalizing the coding, focusing the cameras and working out other kinks. After Freestyle Nationals, Matthews said members of the association were to meet to see if any other adjustments need to be made. As well, SportRFID employees were in Whistler this week to help with the test event, but Snowboard Canada personnel are being trained to run the system.
Lipscomb said Canada Snowboard is the first national sport organization to use the technology, though Toronto-area indoor bike park Joyride 150 has used SportRFID for well over a year, capturing 400,000 videos in that time. In addition to pitching other similar national snowboarding and skiing programs, he said the company would approach organizers in everything from hockey to biking, as well as resorts, in the near future.
"We're trying to get everyone to give the feedback to places like Whistler Blackcomb and their home resorts that this is not just fun, but it will be necessary," he said. "I've heard 50 times 'Why isn't this on every jump yet?' and 150 times 'How do I get (an RFID) sticker? And that was before the system was plugged in."
An old friend within SportRFID approached Lipscomb when the company was seeking someone with a snowboarding background. However, the Pemberton resident's background in film and television production has helped shape his view of how to improve the product.
"My expertise on snow has been coming through every day," he said. "It's a mix of setting interesting shots and understanding the infrastructure."
In addition to being a boon for the organization, Matthews said the riders and their families could benefit as well. Competitors can retrieve their footage immediately and use it to self-promote if they stomped their runs — or improve if they didn't. As well, Matthews noted as part of the trial run that parents who couldn't attend the event had their children's codes so they could watch online. Matthews said Snowboard Canada will look into using the technology to live-stream events in the future.
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