Science, skiing and Sun Peaks

Ron Betts participates in the lower limb proprioceptive awareness testing. Photo supplied.

There has always been a connection between snow sports and science. It’s not uncommon for “snow geeks” to slide into deep and meaningful technical discussions about the physical forces that act on a skier or rider. In fact, some ski and snowboard instructors throw around technical jargon like centripetal forces, edge angles and radiuses, while talking about gravitational forces like modern day Sir Isaac Newtons.

Luckily, Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR) has been a staunch supporter of real science and research for quite some time. The resort has a strong relationship with the students and faculty of Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, B.C., as well as opening its doors to academics from universities abroad.

In 2010, Anne Terwiel, a senior lecturer in the Adventure Studies and Tourism program at TRU and 25-year veteran of the Sun Peaks Snow Sport School, crossed paths with Dr. Tracey Dickson.

Dickson is a professor in the Events and Tourism Management program at the University of Canberra in Australia. During the Vancouver Olympics, the two academics from opposite sides of the world were working on independent, but related, research projects focussed on event volunteering. They shared a love of skiing and a desire to do research that shed some light on relevant topics like concussions and diagnostics and the relationship between safety and snow sport participation rates.

Last year the pair, along with Gordon Waddington, a professor from the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise at the University of Canberra, conducted research on lower limb proprioceptive awareness. That’s a fancy term for being aware of the relative position of your body parts. Using 75 volunteers from the Sun Peaks Ski School, the tests were designed to measure the ability of the subjects to identify incremental changes while standing on a platform. The study looked at the instructor’s level of qualification and the relationship between their lower limb proprioceptive awareness.

The results showed a difference between less experienced instructors and those with higher levels of certification. While the study didn’t test whether results could be improved with practice, or whether they improve as people move through future certifications, the results were consistent with the results found in elite and non-elite athletes.

This research, while ongoing, has the potential to be used to assist in injury rates, and hopefully, injury prevention.

Sun Peaks has also supported student research and recently assisted a TRU honours student who was gathering information about employee satisfaction. As a testament to the strong relationship that exists between Sun Peaks and TRU, the resort allowed the student to access a contact list to distribute a survey to current and past employees.

This research should help resorts identify what it is that employees value and ultimately will help with employee retention and job satisfaction. This connection between the academic world and a real world tourism operation might be one the reasons that TRU was recently mentioned in MacLeans Magazine as a standout in their prestigious annual ranking of Canadian universities.

The willingness of Sun Peaks to partner with researchers and their ongoing support of academics like Dickson and Terwiel is essential to moving the industry forward.

Who knows, the next great discovery in science and skiing might come from one of our own students at the Sun Peaks School.