COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Through years of discussing virtual reality technology with anyone willing to listen, I’ve noticed a common trend — even just imagining the technology makes a lot of people very nervous. This reaction seems to be amplified when it comes to brainstorming the topic with my friends who are very interested in outdoor recreation.
Will virtual reality pull the population even deeper into the digital world than it already is? Without a doubt. And while the uncertainty of what that will look like can be a bit daunting, virtual reality will also bring many benefits to its users.
Here are a few ways I could see virtual reality technology making an impact in the outdoor recreation space:
1. Improved adventure preparation
Want to practice navigating a hiking route before actually getting on the mountain? Virtual reality will likely become a means for people to do this in a very immersive way.
Imagine putting on a headset and being able to complete the route to the top of Colorado’s infamous Capitol Peak before actually setting foot on the trail. The fully immersive and interactive nature of a virtual reality experience like this is sure to make route finding easier, and therefore much safer, on the day of the real-world adventure. Also, it’s likely that a program like this could simulate a variety of weather scenarios and other hazards that could further help hikers in their preparation.
2. Improved accessibility through vicarious experiences
Many outdoor recreational experiences are simply not accessible to many people, either due to physical limitations or prohibitive cost. In the same way that virtual reality could get outdoor recreation seekers on the trail while preparing for a real-world experience, it could also get others on the trail, whether they ever plan to hone their skills in the physical test world. Would you like to experience what it’s like to climb Everest? Virtual reality may not be able to give you a frostbite sensation (yet), but it could give you a chance to see some pretty stunning and immersive views in a way no other media technology can.
3. Make exercises more appealing and therefore more attractive
New media technologies have long been used to make training more fulfilling. A simple example is that indoor cycling units often have a small screen to give riders the feeling of riding some sort of real route. Imagine how much more immersive and real this experience would feel if the images were shown to the user through a headset with an immersive 360 degree view instead of a small screen. It’s likely that this higher level of engagement keeps users more engaged, potentially leading to better workouts.
4. Remove risk from dangerous experiences
Risk is half the fun, right? Maybe for some people, but for others risk does nothing more than discourage people from participating in some activities. Want to try wingsuit flying but not ready to risk your own body? Virtual reality could mimic the experience in such a way that the average person feels a fraction of the thrill. As technology continues to improve, this proportion will only increase.
5. More immersive outdoor leisure media
This advantage of virtual reality is already there, as seen in the two-part virtual reality series The Soloist, starring Alex Honnold. From an observer positioned on a cliff as Honnold climbs ropelessly across a massive valley floor, to allowing the viewer to participate in an interview taking place in Honnold’s living room, there’s no doubt – video captured this way makes the viewing experience much more realistic and realistic fierce. Also, imagine the point-of-view capabilities – virtual reality technology could turn viewers into skiers in upcoming film debuts. It’s likely that the same point-of-view style will be used in live sporting events, from being able to take the spectator to a spectator seat at the top of a huge grand air ramp or having the spectator join an athlete while in really blasting down a distance time from this athlete’s point of view.
6. Practice makes perfect
How good are you at tying climbing knots? There will probably be a virtual reality program that will make you better. The interactive nature of the technology will allow people to practice various technical aspects of the sport without actually having access to the expensive equipment they may need. In the same way that virtual reality could guide someone through a route before actually hitting the trail in the real world, it could also provide a space for skills to be practiced over and over without wearing out actual gear also provides access to emulated devices that you may not be able to get your hands on.
7. More time away means more time outside
This one isn’t directly related to outdoor recreation, but it will be a benefit that outdoor enthusiasts will love. While the coronavirus pandemic has many people discovering the benefits of working from home for the first time, working from home will only become more appealing for large companies as virtual reality technology gets better. While sending employees to work from home in a real-world setting can mean investing in a lot of hardware, virtual reality can eliminate that need. Not only can virtual reality make work more efficient, but it can also generally free the employee from the traditional office space, which means more time for the pleasant things, including outdoor recreation.