GNSS Technology for Sport

Canadian Alpine Ski Team

Competitive athletes win or lose races by fractions of seconds. Just ask Erik Guay of the Canadian Men's Alpine Ski Team who in 2010 won a World Cup Super-G race in Kvitfjell, Norway, by a mere 0.02 seconds ahead of his nearest rival. The use of technology to measure and enhance performance, particularly in a sport like skiing that involves speed, distance and timing, is critical. Precise knowledge of rate of descent, lateral accelerations, and gate crossing times is critical to analyzing strengths and weaknesses.

In 2006, a research partnership was formed between Professor Lachapelle, Professor of Geomatics Engineering at the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering, and the Canadian Alpine Ski Team, resulting in the development of an ultra-precise, ultra-light and autonomous sensor for performance measurement and analysis. To be successful, the sensor had to:

  • Detect relevant differences in line selection for downhill, super-giant and giant slalom skiers
  • Operate in ambient conditions below -20° Celsius and accommodate moisture
  • Have negligible influence on skiers travelling in excess of 130 kilometre/hour
  • Provide a minimum of 20 centimetre positioning accuracy and 1 millisecond timing accuracy at 20 Hz.
  • Be comfortable to wear, not exceed 500 grams, and operate for at least 4 hours

NovAtel was selected to provide the sensor's precision positioning capabilities, as it was the only GNSS receiver manufacturer able to meet all of the above specifications. The sensor, ultimately named the STEALTH™ sensor (Sensor for the Training of Elite Athletes) consists of a GNSS base receiver positioned on the slope to maximize satellite signal availability, a stretchable belt for the athlete with the STEALTH™ unit attached, and a helmet-mounted GNSS antenna for data collection. Specially developed software allowed the coaches to analyze the data of each training run to ensure the athlete was positioned in the most efficient way.

The Canadian Alpine Ski Team relied successfully on STEALTH™ data to enhance the training of its top athletes for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and World Cup season. “The ease of use through straightforward interaction with the device in the field and the interactive data presentation and interaction with the post-processing software proved essential for the acceptance of the technology”, says Professor Lachapelle. As the Canadian Alpine Ski Team discovered, GNSS technology helps provide the edge for success, with the 2010 season becoming one of their most successful seasons in many years.