Decorated Paralympic skier Mac Marcoux has a new tool in his training arsenal – a 360° camera that allows him to see the track clearly for the first time.
Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. native Marcoux started skiing in 2001 at the age of four. In 2007, he lost most of his eyesight due to Stargardt disease, a form of juvenile macular degeneration. But that didn’t slow him down. He not only continued skiing, but began competing professionally in partnership with a sighted guide who alerts him to the terrain ahead.
Now, at 19, Marcoux can accelerate up to 120 kph and has become one of the sport’s most decorated athletes, with three medals at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, including gold in giant slalom and bronze in the downhill and super G events. In January, he came first in downhill super G, slalom and giant slalom at the 2017 World Para-Alpine Skiing Championships.
Last year, on a lark, Marcoux tried on a VR headset and was astonished by the results. While he’s lost most of his sight, Marcoux can see objects in his peripheral vision and within a few inches of his eyes. (Hold a book up to your face, and the peripheral vision that remains on either side of the book is what Marcoux sees.) However, a VR headset display sits close enough to his eyes that he can see video playback from his training runs. With the use of immersive 360° video, he can see the track clearly.
Alpine Canada, the national governing body for Alpine, Ski Cross and Para-Alpine ski racing, has partnered with Nikon Canada to equip Marcoux’s team with KeyMission 360 and KeyMission 170 cameras. The KeyMission 360 captures 360° video with two super wide-angle lenses. The two images are stitched together using software to create an immersive world in 4K resolution. This allows the Alpine Canada Alpin team to review Marcoux’s trial runs before he returns to the track to ski in competition.
Until now, Marcoux has used the traditional visual aids allowed in professional Para-Alpine skiing for training purposes, such as guides, guide rails or beeping balls. The use of 360° video has been accepted as another legitimate tool in the sport, and has proven to have unexpected benefits for the whole team, including Marcoux’s sighted guide Jack Leitch.
“Having state-of-the art technology available to us will be a game changer heading into the 2018 PyeongChang Games,” says Marcoux. “The virtual reality equipment helps me to better prepare for downhill races by being able to see and visualize the course.”