Helmet cams capture outdoor adventures

The scene is exhilarating, gripping and nearly disorienting in its realism. You're careening down a snowy slope, powder rising on either side as trees bowed over by snow zip by.

By the time the run ends, you're pumped for a day on the hill and you haven't even left home.

The explosion of social media has led to a leap in video footage among skiers and boarders - not to mention skydivers and mountain bikers.

At Sun Peaks Resort, helmet cams have practically become the norm. They also help elevate the resort's profile for free - a marketer's dream.

"In the tourism and travel industry . . . content that's created by people has become so important in what we do because people are sharing experiences," said Christina Antoniak, destination marketing manager at Sun Peaks. "That content is so powerful because it's authentic and it's generating word of mouth for us."

Among the ways Sun Peaks promoters leverage that is by constantly reviewing photo and video uploads and reposting the most captivating images on their Facebook page, which has 20,000 followers.

They're also working on an advertising campaign using images from visitors, for which they need express permission from photographers.

Helmet cam technology can be boiled down to a scrapbook in motion. In the short term it lets Grandma share in epic moments and later on, when memories fade, reminds us of how we used to shred.

Although skydivers have long used video to capture their jumps, it was less pervasive years ago because it was like "having the old VCR strapped to them," said Dean Schryver, president of the Kamloops Skydiving Club.

These days, a modern, lightweight helmet cam is just another piece of equipment - one that pays off in a variety of ways.

"With the speed with which things happen and the intensity, we can use it as a teaching tool to go back and really fine tune some of the skills," said Schryver. "A lot of it is also used for kind of a 'look at me.' "

And all those skydiving video uploads also seem to give people an itch to try it themselves.

"We have a beautiful place to do skydiving and it kind of helps put a spotlight on that," said Schryver.

Kamloops is already famous for its quality mountain biking, but "any media" helps spread the word, said Taylor Hollstedt.

The owner of Valleyview's Bicycle CafÉ as well as the go-to bike mechanic for professional riders in Kamloops and a featured rider in past freeride films, Hollstedt supports GoPro technology and even sells the cameras in his shop.

But he also sees a drawback to the deluge of exposure that Kamloops trails get through amateur videos.

"Whether some random person's GoPro footage makes (Kamloops) more prevalent or whether when you search Kamloops on YouTube it pulls up 600 GoPro videos . . . which dilutes the actual amazing media that makes it a world destination - that's a question," said Hollstedt.

Either way, it seems the avalanche of random videos will only increase.

Sales of the cameras, like the industry leader GoPro, were up 50 per cent to 123,000 at snow sports retailers for the 2012-13 ski season, according to the Sports Industries Association.

Jonathan Harris, GoPro's vice-president of sales, thinks this season will see more groups collaborating on videos, divvying up camera angles and pooling footage.

"As a kid, I loved watching Warren Miller ski movies," he said, referring to the annual snow-sports films beloved by skiers and boarders. "You wished for a way to do that, but I didn't have a camera crew waiting for me at the bottom of the run. Now with $400 - boom! - you are out there getting your own movie."

And some destinations are taking it to the next level. A new teen centre at a members-only resort in Haystack Mountain in Wilmington, Vt., will even have indoor video-editing booths and a screening room to play footage and finished films for a crowd.
But it's not just teens who get the technology. "It's transcending across different age demographics," said Antoniak.

"Your middle-aged father out with his GoPro will edit something back at the hotel room or townhouse and post it while on vacation. So it's neat to see how anyone can access these tools."

Wing Taylor, 42, who lives in North Vancouver, uses his GoPro mostly to record keepsakes of the days when his children are still mastering the mountains, but he'll also play them on grey fall days to get his son and daughter jazzed for the season.

"I will also share the videos of my kids at work. Who doesn't like an audience to say, 'Look at my kids. They're awesome!' " he said. And with just the right camera angle, the jump of a six-year-old can look a lot bigger than it really is.

If you're hanging at the Taylors' house, you might watch the videos on their flat screen.

"We can pick 'home movies' on our Apple TV, and for us, home movies are ski movies."

The only downside, Taylor says, is the audio. There's a lot of loud "schussing," which he typically fixes up by dropping in music on the final cut.


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