COVID-19 set to accelerate winter sports into a tech revolution

Mastercard and winter sports experts come together to look into the future of the industry and the impact of COVID-19, off and on the slopes.

In order to analyze the effect of COVID-19 on the winter sports industry, Mastercard, the sponsor of the Hahenkamm Races, has published a new independent Delphi report composed of 53 winter sports experts. The study looks at the effect of technology during a pandemic on the future of the winter sports industry, with results showing that COVID-19 is likely to amplify the sector into a technological revolution by 2025.

The report, entitled ‘The Effect of Technology on the Future of Winter Sports, in Times of COVID,’ was led by Prof. Dr. Sascha L. Schmidt of the WHU Centre for Sports and Management. Data has shown that digitalization has been catapulted forward worldwide, with 5 years of adoption taking place within an eight-week timeframe. Within the winter sports industry, this is mirrored, as experts expect COVID-19 will accelerate digital growth. As technology and skiing have traditionally had a turbulent relationship as individuals look to the slopes for a ‘closer to nature’ experience, the shift in strategies for the industry is unexpected. 

However, by 2025, experts expect that the pandemic will have a significant effect on three main technology areas: athletes’ fitness, preparation and recovery decisions (54 per cent)General comfort for skiers, including vacationers (56%) and ski lift technology optimization to minimize the spread of viruses (41 per cent). The research, which includes insights and predictions from winter sports experts from 15 countries across Europe, is the second analysis of future trends carried out by Mastercard in this region.

It uncovers the complexities of COVID-19 and the potential given by the pandemic for a long-term transition to enhance the experience of winter sports in the future. It further shows the complexities of COVID-19 and the potential for a long-term shift given by the pandemic to enhance the experience of winter sports in the future.

In spite of the initial short-term problems, more than half of the experts (56 per cent) said changes triggered by the pandemic would alter the industry in the long term. 

Jeanette Liendo, Mastercard Senior Vice President for Marketing and Communications, said: “This is the second study we have conducted on the European snow sports industry and, whilst 2020 has been unprecedented due to COVID-19, technological innovation has even further accelerated. Looking at the season ahead, the industry will continue to recover by adopting new technologies at pace.”

A big change in operations has been seen in the winter sports industry, prompting many resorts to reassess how the slopes operate, with 73 per cent of experts forecasting more improvements in contactless technology leading to seamless contact-free interactions by 2025, including purchases, food orders, ski hiring and hotel check-ins, compared to only 62 per cent last year.

Although the industry is starting to bounce back, 49 per cent of industry analysts expect that pre-COVID levels will not return until 2023 in general market skiing and live attendance, a comparable forecast for in-person spectator winter sports events.

Upgrades are not only being made to the technologies surrounding the smooth experience on slopes. Via COVID-19, equipment manufacturers have also had an extended period of thinking, with many using the opportunity to study and build new equipment. By 2025, one of the main improvements to equipment on the slopes is expected to be advanced materials within the winter sports industry.

This involves everything from smart security with biometric data from GPS trackers and measuring skiers, to renewed insulation materials for warmer yet lighter ski wear. The biggest advancement, however, will be the fan experience, such as digital broadcasting of events similar to the Hahnenkamm downhill races, with 73 per cent of experts expecting a substantial change by 2025, with fans being able to see informative events similar to the Hahnenkamm downhill races.

Helmut Holzer, Director Anticipation & Advanced Research, Atomic Austria GmbH, commented “We still see potential in the area of integrated measuring systems directly attached to the equipment, especially for professional athletes. Feedback from athletes such as “it’s shaky here or it’ s unstable there” could thus be verified. Sometimes it is difficult to put the behaviour of the equipment into words, which is why we hope to gain insights from the data from integrated measuring systems. In the amateur sector, it’s all about individualisation. Finding the right product for each individual athlete is a challenge, for example, different performance levels for the same product. Last but not least, sustainability will become even more important. Climate-friendly materials will increase – on the one hand to meet the demand from consumers, on the other hand, to comply with regulatory requirements, e.g., from the EU.”

Chemmy Alcott, Gold Medallist World Cup Alpine Ski Racer, said “The past year has been so strange for everyone with businesses and sport being disrupted across the world. In a harsh reality, the pandemic has affected everyone in the snow sports industry, not just the skiers or the resort owners. Ski resorts are communities in their own right with local businesses and people depending solely on the resorts to live. I fully expect the way resorts and the slopes are run will fundamentally change due to COVID-19 and that’s a good thing, especially if we can build the popularity of skiing through virtual sports and create new exciting events everyone can be a part of. I’m looking forward to getting back on the slopes and I’m sure the rest of the industry is too. Whether it’s real life or virtually!”

Graham Bell, Five Time Winter Olympian Ski Racer and Hahnenkamm competitor said “Skiing has always been a pure and wild sport that allows you to disconnect from the world, so technology hasn’t always had the biggest impact. It’s exciting to see what other sports did during the pandemic to keep their fans watching and taking part. The idea of a virtual ski world championship or fans racing against their idols is amazing and will give the sport a massive boost. I hope the outlook for the industry comes true and enables winter sports to bounce back and open up to more people from all around the world.”

Another area of substantial technological change that professionals hope to see by 2025 falls in the form of eSports. In 2020, virtual sports burst onto the scene as in-person activities due to COVID-19 were cancelled or postponed.

Other than in cult games such as SSX Tricky, winter sports are not renowned for their virtual presence, but 37 per cent of experts expect that eSports will have opened up virtual slopes for people around the world by 2025, even where skiing is not naturally possible.