Racing into the future

The Friday Race Series will be improved by new technology. Photo supplied.

On any given day, ski racers can be seen, in all of their spandex-wearing glory, racing through courses of red and blue gates. Have you ever stopped for a minute and thought about the amount of work it takes to make that happen?

To run a successful ski race, such as Sun Peaks’ recreational Friday Race Series for example, it takes a team of dedicated, trained volunteers to make this family-friendly event happen week after week. These course workers are on the mountain at first light getting things set up, gates need to be put in the snow, fencing needs to go up, signs and banners hung to keep sponsors happy and loose snow needs to be removed for safety. Other volunteers are busy with registration and organizing all of the off-snow logistics that make for a successful event.

But the one job that always seems to get elevated to mythical status is the timer. It’s their job to ensure that the race runs smoothly, that each racer’s time gets recorded accurately and that the integrity of the race is without reproach.

Timing systems have evolved from hand timed races with stopwatches to electronic timing that requires a physical wire connection between the top and bottom of the course. Sun Peaks has just become one of the first ski areas to embrace the latest technology, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chip timing.

While this tech has been around for a while, it has most often been used in situations where there are large numbers of participants starting in a short period of time, like cross country skiing races or running events. Using the system to time ski racing is less common but there are myriad advantages.

So, how does it work? Well, with full disclosure that I’m not Bill Nye the Science Guy, here’s my best layperson’s explanation: RFID systems require the racer to wear a chip somewhere on their person (in our case it’s a Velcro strap attached to the leg).

That chip passes a timing loop at the start of the race. The loop is connected to a device called an activator that gatherings GPS information such as the exact time of day, location, etc. That information is stored on the racer’s chip and when they pass through a second loop at the bottom the time between those two events is recorded. The information is then sent to a reader that can calculate the time from the start to the finish. All of this happens through the wonder of science, or completely by witchcraft and wizardry, I still haven’t decided which.

The end result is a race that is both easier to set up and a more user-friendly way for organizers and participants to see the race results. Racers can log into a website to see their times immediately. The data can also be tweaked to show the top finishers in each category, fastest runs, or any other metrics that organizers wish.

Sun Peaks’ director of skiing, Nancy Greene Raine, was on hand to see the debut of the new system at the Jan. 18 Friday Race Series. She offered words of encouragement to younger racers and showed great enthusiasm for a product that puts Sun Peaks at the head of the pack in terms of event timing.

“This technology is going to allow Sun Peaks to remain at the forefront of ski racing and event hosting. Sun Peaks is a world-class resort that is proud to support a fantastic Canadian made product. It’s just one more way for us to continue to give both locals and guests the experience they deserve,” she said.