The Future of Skiing – Virtual Reality, Drones, Robots, Synthetic Snow, & More

Skiing has been around forever.  Rock paintings depicting skis have been found dating back over 5000 years! Back then skis were primarily used as a mode of transportation.  It wasn’t until much more recently that skiing became a recreational sport.  In those 5000 years there have been many important innovations that have helped to transformed skiing into it’s modern day form.  My favorite of which is without a doubt the chairlift which was invented less than 100 years ago.  Going from hiking up every run to being effortlessly whisked to the top of mountains in less than 100 years leads me to wonder what is in store for the next 100 years of skiing.  I have thought long & hard about what the future of skiing holds for us.  The following predictions are what I have came up with.

How Virtual Reality Will Shape The Future of Skiing

You may not be aware but virtual reality skiing already exists in a pretty advanced form. SkyTechSport has produced a VR Ski Simulator (shown below) that provides panoramic 4K views that look like a ski resort and motors that reproduce sensations so it feels as if you were actually skiing.

In it’s current form virtual reality skiing is ideal for downhill racers allowing them to train without risk of injury & in the off-season.  It doesn’t, however, replicate the full experience of skiing.

For me, it’s missing one big thing, freedom.  Skiing isn’t just carving back & forth. It’s powder sprays & 360’s. It’s nose butters & hucking cliffs.  It’s so much more than SkyTechSport’s simulator is capable for.

With that being said I fully expect virtual reality skiing to improve in leaps & bounds over the next couple generations.  Do I think it will ever fully replace real skiing? No.

Augmented Reality is Already Altering Skiing

Virtual reality’s under-loved brother augmented reality is already here in early forms as well.  AR has far different implications on the sport than VR.  For those not aware of the difference; Augmented reality is the addition of digital elements into a live world, whereas virtual reality is complete submersion in a digital world. Personally, I am far more excited for the future AR holds for the sport. Before we get there, let’s look at where augmented reality skiing is today.  Meet RideOn the world’s first augmented reality ski goggles & smart helmet.

Once again this is just the early stages of augmented reality skiing.  The possibilities, however, are near endless.

As if skiing wasn’t fun enough, now you can play digital mini-games while shredding.  In the future these mini-games will advance far beyond skiing through digital gates.  In my mind I am picturing a first person shooter style game (as these were my favorite games as a kid) with digital snow creatures hanging off of trees or popping up in the middle of a run.  Plus, thanks to the heads up display a collusion avoidance system would be easily implemented for skiers to prevent them from getting too distracted by the digital elements.

Like I said the possibilities here really are only limited by imagination. Where virtual reality has it’s main shortfall is that it takes you away from real skiing.  Augmented reality only serves as an add-on to real skiing.  Which is why I think it will have a much bigger impact on the future of the sport.

Will Drones Eliminate the Need for Chairlifts & Snowmobiles?

This is without a doubt my favorite theory about the future of skiing to imagine.  Just picture it for a second.  Instead of buying a lift pass, waiting in line, & riding the chairlift to the top of the mountain.  You simply hook your harness onto your drone & are flown to the top.  Once there you detach from the drone & it follows its pre-programmed course returning to the bottom to wait for you.  Either that or it follows you until you are ready for another lift.

Personally, I love this idea.  Primarily due to the no lift ticket required aspect.

With that said, I do not think drones are going to replace chairlifts.  I just can’t imagine the problems that it would cause if everybody at a ski resort had their own drone.  I’m talking extremely crowded airspace & mid-air collisions.

I do, however, think that drones will become the backcountry tool of choice.  Forget about needing a snowmobile & a second person to drive it down.  Forget about helicopters. Above all else, forget about hiking to the top of a mountain.

Where Will Robotic Technology Fit Into Skiing in the Future

Robots, robots, robots.  Many people in wide varieties of professions fear that in the future robots are going to be replacing them.  The sad part(?) is most of them are probably right. The ski industry is no different.  My prediction is that many ski jobs will be eliminated in the coming decades due to the advancement of robotic technology.

Many ski resorts are already replacing ticket scanners with electronic gates. Will lift operators be next? I mean what purpose do they really serve except for stopping the lift in case of a problem & perhaps slowing it down for children? I think it would be fairly easy to automate both of the features.  Simply, install some sensors to detect problems with loading & unloading.  Even easier than that, a consumer operated button could allow anyone to slow the lift for loading should they desire.

Next under the automation cross-hairs is the mountain groomers.  Commonly hailed as one of the best mountain jobs due to it’s shifts being outside of ski hours.  Groomers, unfortunately, are not going to last long in a robotic future. Being easily replaced by Roomba style grooming robots.

Indoor Skiing Already Exists, but is it the Future of the Sport?

Year round skiing? Yes, please! With indoor skiing this is now possible, without chasing the snow around the world.

Not gonna lie this place looks pretty awesome.  It has definitely been on my bucketlist to go indoor skiing since I first learned it existed.

While definitely a neat concept I’m not convinced this is going to be the future of skiing.  I see quite a few problems with the idea.  First & foremost I can’t even begin to imagine the A/C bill required to maintain the 23 degree temperature in this massive space.  Speaking of space, this video showcases the “world’s largest indoor ski resort”.  While it is impressively large it will never compete with the size of a true mountain.  I think it is neat, but a little gimmicky.  I do think more of these complexes will be built  in the future, but like virtual reality skiing I don’t think it will replace the real thing.

Synthetic Snow

Similar to indoor ski resorts another new technology claims to be able to make year round skiing a reality.  That is synthetic snow.

Honestly, I think this simply looks lame.  You are welcome to disagree with me on this, but it just doesn’t appeal to me.  Skiing synthetic snow, in it’s current form, isn’t landing a spot on my bucketlist  that’s for sure. I say in it’s current form because this is a post about the future of skiing not current innovations.  I think this idea is a start that can & will be improved upon.  Synthetic snow is a phenomenal idea.  These tacky mats just haven’t quite knocked it out of the park.

Even in it’s current form I do see some practical uses though.  For instance, these mats could be used near the base areas of mountains.  These areas, at lower elevations, are slower to receive snow & faster to lose it.  Put down a couple of mats & boom you extend the season on either end.  Skiers can still shred real snow at the higher elevations and glide into the chairlifts & base area on the synthetic stuff.

Conclusion

Nobody really knows what the future of skiing is going to look like.  Personally, I hope the future holds real snow on real mountains! If you agree with me on this aspect help me in supporting Protect Our Winters.  I also hope the future includes drones & augmented reality mini-games, but maybe that’s just me.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the future of skiing in the comments below.  Do you think drones will ever replace the snowmobile? Do you think virtual reality skiing will be able to fully replicate the real experience? Have any other thoughts on how robots might impact the sport? Or do you disagree with me on synthetic snow? Let me know, below.

Until next time,

Peace, Love, Pow.

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