Healthification and The Analytics of Snowboarding

British Columbia is a place of spectacular mountain terrain, breathtaking landscapes, a place of snow-covered treetops, and deep powder – a place that has transformed and challenged the aesthetics of snowboarding. The mountains seem to whisper and challenge the daring and exceptionally talented to dream widely and to fall hard.

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North Shore Mountains, British Columbia, Canada  

 

History of Snowboarding

Snowboarding was first introduced in the 1920s with little success, and like most sports, it was born out of the desire to play. The competitive side inevitably emerged in 1981 (Red Bull Signature Series, 2012). At this time, snowboarding drew in the curious and the committed, as it was considered risky and dangerous. Initially, boards were crudely designed and offered limited capabilities on the slopes. However, pioneers like Tom Sims and Nick Burton completely revolutionized board design technology and opened the doors to a whole new level of riding. And on the west coast, boarding became more of an extension of skateboarding, rather than surfing. As the 80’s progressed, snowboarding began to interest sponsors, and the era of the professional snowboarder emerged (Red Bull Signature Series, 2012).

From paychecks to pipes, everything got bigger. Later, in 1998, snowboarding joined the elites as a competitive sport at the Olympics. As the 2000’s pushed on, so did competitive snowboarding.  The infinite possibilities of what can be done on a snowboard carries on to this day (Red Bull Signature Series, 2012).

Fundamentally, we must first widen the scope with which we view snowboarders and the aesthetics of the sport. Ultimately, I will work to offer you an interesting and perhaps controversial perspective on this sport in order to reveal the hidden cost of this healthy lifestyle, and the analytic oversights that fail human emotion in regards to snowboarding.

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If you are a snowboarder or skier, you probably know that there is a feud between the two groups. While on the slopes and in the park, they just can’t seem to get along. With that being said, it can be argued that the two sports are actually cut from the same cloth. Therefore, instead of avoiding one another, they should learn from each other (Red Bull Performance Camp, 2012).

Red Bull Snow Performance Camp 2012 Recap

Out of this mentality – the Red Bull Performance Camp was born. This event drew heavily on the promotion of inclusivity in winter sports, while integrating analytics in order to improve performance. Analytics is used in most sports today, and serves to enhance dialogue, performance, and even aids in understanding instance of injury – especially in high intensity, high velocity sports (Millington et al, 2015).

Analysts filmed take offs, airtime, and landings (looking at speed, curve, distance, and style) in pursuance of generating data. The data was then used to supply feedback to the athletes, which worked to resolve the rider’s biggest issues on the jumps that were inhibiting maximal performance (Red Bull Performance Camp, 2012).

We hear it from the athletes themselves – analytics is clearly a powerful tool that is completely changing the game.

Russ Henshaw, an Australian freestyle skier says,

“The feedback was really, really helpful because we’ll do the trick and usually we’ll have a feel if it’s good or not, but then we can do the video analysis pretty much seconds after we’ve landed the trick. We go over what we’ve done wrong, what we can do better, how we can fix it, and it seems to have worked pretty sweet” (Red Bull Performance Camp, 2012).

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Louie Vito, an American professional snowboarder,

“It’s cool to see everybody riding well, like especially when you see someone working on it in the air bag and then they go take it to snow – you really see the progression and the steps they’re taking. You see the transformation in front of your eyes which is a really cool thing” (Red Bull Performance Camp, 2012).

Moving forward, there seems to be this argument that analytics is the future of sports (Millington et al, 2015). And perhaps that is true, so for the sake of my argument moving forward, I will not disagree.

Intel Inside The X Games

Intel Inside The X Games is organized under the understanding that today’s rapidly changing business climate is creating an unprecedented opportunity for organizations to transform how they work. From safeguarding data and securing your identity to improving productivity and performance, the “6th generation Intel Core vPro processor is changing the way we work” (ESPN and Intel Team Up, 2016).

Mark McMorris, Canadian professional snowboarder and 2015 X Games Gold Medalist said, for example,

“They can actually figure out how many times you rotated, how many g-forces you left the take off with, how many g-forces your landed with – a lot of insane stats that you could never find out before, you can find out now. […] And people at home are now going to know what’s actually happening at the X Games” (ESPN and Intel Team Up, 2016).

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Similarly, Stale Sandbech, Norwegian snowboarder and 2015 X Games Silver Medalist noted,

“It’s crazy how much information they can get from a tiny device on your board. Technology is insane. [And] the fact that you can get it live on TV, it’s going to make it so much more exciting” (ESPN and Intel Team Up, 2016).

Intel technology and experience is taking you inside Big Air like never before. The technology works within a puck that gets attached to the top surface of the board. It contains an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer, which basically takes the snowboarder’s motion, digitizes it, and then proceeds to map it out (Intel’s Cutting Edge X Games Tech, 2016).

The X Factor 

Fundamentally, analytics challenges those who previously held power in sports (Whitson, 2014). These fancy statistics produce this X Factor – which assigns numbers to performance, and quantifies physical skill. This data is used to create real time statistics that draw heavily on the promotion of the audience’s experience (ESPN and Intel Team Up, 2016). However, this emphasis on experience can be complicit towards reproducing an athlete’s submission and ultimate surrender to obedience and fails to take into account emotional strength and determination (Whitson, 2014).

It takes a great deal of time, effort, and dedication to become specialized in a sport. Why then is it that audiences rarely, or ever, take the time to acknowledge it? We seem to view athletes as robots or machines, and analytics further perpetuates the failure of recognizing emotional strength. The spectacle of the live performance leads us to believe that sport is effortless. Instead, it is possessed by the individual and in turn flows through them without a struggle (Compton, 2015). The spectacle is absolutely blinding, and the audience is lead to believe that sport is a product of personal genius and occasions from pristine athletic ability. We are lead to believe it is a gift given only to a select few individuals (Rowe et al, 2014).

It is this prioritization of sport as product rather than a process which itself is a function of our emphasis on the market that surrounds sport (Corrigan, 2014). It’s exactly this one-dimensional thinking that emanated analytics. Today, it seems as though the authenticity that’s inherently embedded in sports has been denounced and depreciated. The perception of sports has shifted, and is currently perceived as a commodity to be produced, bought, sold, and circulated – or in the case of live sports, experienced (Millington et al, 2015).

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Why is this a problem?

Let’s put aside the obvious gaps and failures of gender integration in sports. Instead, let us focus on something a little less surface level – human emotion.

Sports is inherently emotional. However, the application of analytics to sports and the world of snowboarding has eradicated all emotion and intellect (Millington et al, 2015).

  1. It overlooks the dedication, discipline, and the mental and physical exertion required to become proficient at snowboarding – or any sport for that matter.
  2. It overlooks the energy involved in creating the spectacle of performance in either the live setting or through live sports broadcasting (Compton, 2015).

These critiques not only trouble existing notions of authenticity concerning performance and authorship, but they both have legal and monetary implications as well. And perhaps, more interestingly, there seems to be this unspoken understanding that the numbers and equations do all the work for the athlete. This conception is absolutely absurd. Analytics can prove to aid an athlete in knowing what elements of their performance they can work on. The key word here is work, as in involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result (Millington, 2015). Therefore, formulas and numbers can’t make the jumps – the athlete does (paired with emotional strength, determination, and a lot of hard work).

Listen to what Louie Vito, American professional snowboarder, has to say, as he supply’s an interesting insider’s perspective into what it actually takes to succeed,

“Whenever you see someone put in the effort and the time on a trick and [then] they go do it […] you know how good that feeling is – what they’re feeling, and you can’t be anything but happy for them” (Red Bull Performance Camp, 2012).

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It’s important that we, as the audience, recognize that athletes, from all disciplines and walks of life, are not robots or drones. Ultimately, we have to shift the scope with which we view these athletes, or at least, contribute towards the revival of how popular culture views them.

Dedication to snowboarding takes commitment, both on and off the slopes. So it’s not only important to trace the application of analytics in sports in order to develop an argument surrounding its potential failures, especially concerning emotional strength. It is also essential to reference, more specifically, just how demanding snowboarding really is and what it takes to succeed both physically and emotionally.

Healthification of Snowboarding

Snowboarding, as an alternative sport, has undergone a process of healthification. It is no longer just fun. It is also good for your heart (Whitson, 2014). Suddenly it seems as though there is this immense pressure to be fit and look good. Fitness, being lean, and good looks are often linked to people’s identity. In this light, your fate then can actually be controlled by the actions you take to control your health. That being said, it is no wonder that people are so attracted to sports.

Yes, snowboarding will improve your overall health, but really, that’s because any activity is better than none at all (ExRx, 2016). And it seems as though many people begin snowboarding without realizing or even acknowledging the time, dedication, and money that goes into such a demanding and dangerous sport.

As a matter of fact, sprains and fractures are the most common injuries among snowboarders, followed by contusions, dislocations, and concussions (Dunn, 2001). A high proportion of snowboarders who are injured are beginners and adolescents. Youth typically view themselves as invulnerable to injury and often exhibit risk-taking behavior. Novices are at an increased risk for fractures and injuries to the wrist, in part because of frequent falls (Dunn, 2001). So, with the increasing popularity of snowboarding, injuries are seen more often than in the past (Dunn, 2001).

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Snowboarding injuries are often attributed to rider stance, as both feet are fixed to a single board, and the arms are utilized for balance. Therefore, the typical mechanism of snowboarding injury is a forward or backward fall broken by outstretched arms and hyperextended wrists (Dunn, 2001). Other mechanisms of injury include collisions at speeds as high as 40 mph, attempts at aerial maneuvers, and difficulty getting on and off the ski lifts (Dunn, 2001).

Accordingly, a great deal of training and preparation would need to be implemented before snowboarding seriously. And I know analytics can make sports look a lot easier than they actually are. So, be cautious! Be safe!

The Hidden Cost of and Active Lifestyle

Sport and recreational physical activity is an integral part of our participation in a healthy lifestyle. But there is a predominant injury problem associated with sports and recreational injury (Marshall et al, 2003). In fact, 75% of US adults report they are not regularly active or are inactive during leisure time. An enormous growth in the market for home video/DVD, electronic games, and computers has meant profits for manufacturers and retailers but also means massive future costs for public health in terms of obesity related disease (Marshall et al, 2003). Consequently, there is an increased risk of injury and immense danger – an ironic effect from increasing the level of physical activity in an overwhelmingly sedentary population.

Preventing injuries in sedentary individuals would be best achieved by gradually working up to a desired level of activity before engaging in high risk, high velocity sports (Gordon-Larsen et al, 2000). With that being said, recreational injuries still occur to personas at all levels of fitness and conditioning (Gordon-Larsen et al, 2000). And interestingly enough, the evidence linking physical fitness and prevention of sports injury is slight (Quarrie KL et al, 2000). Instead, the level of injury risk is directly dependent on the activity – and snowboarding is very dangerous (Kucera, 2002).

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So, public health recommendations need to address the specific mix of mild, moderate, and vigorous physical activity not only in terms of chronic disease prevention and treatment, but also in terms of management of the risk of injury (Pugh et al, 1995). In other words, the healthification of snowboarding is much easier said than done. Withal, snowboarding is not only fun, but it is great for your heart. It can prevent obesity, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, diabetes, poor mental health, and musculoskeletal degeneration. Not to mention that snow boarding includes long duration and high intensity intervals, which confer the greatest benefits (Marshall et all, 2003).

Really, then, the only way to combat such serious injuries would be to readily implement protective equipment intervention, educate the public on safe behavior, promote the use of insulating clothing, developing physical activity and training guidelines. These measures will hopefully help maximize health gains from prevention of obesity and other inactivity related disease (Marshall, 2003).

Undoubtedly, Intel, along with similar analytical technologies are revolutionizing the way we view sports. And the lights, cameras, and roaring live audiences create a spectacle that covers up flaws and failures of analytics (Compton, 2015). Then again, you can find some sort of injustice in any sport. It’s simply a matter of looking hard enough.

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References

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Corrigan, T. F. (2014). The Political Economy of Sports and New Media. In A.C.           Billings & M. Hardin (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Sport and New Media (pp.43-54). New York: Routledge.

Dunn, K. A. (2001). What are the health hazards of snowboarding? Western Journal of Medicine, 174(2), 128–130.

ESPN and Intel team up for X Games #CES2016 | Intel. (2016, January 05). Retrieved         November 26, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AzSLouSv8Y

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Quarrie KL, Alsop JC, Waller AE, et al. A prospective cohort study of risk factors for    injury in Rugby Union football. Br J Sports Med2001;35:157–66.

Red Bull Signature Series – Supernatural 2012 FULL TV EPISODE 6. R. (2012, May   13). Retrieved November 28, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGQeNiumoes

Red Bull Snow Performance Camp 2012 Recap. (2012, August 31). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftTNl0y9UU4

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