Rocky Mountain Consortium for Sports Research helps athletes understand ‘Why?’

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Dr. Michael Decker is with the Rocky Mountain Consortium for Sports Research. He spent the week with a group of Vail Mountain School ski racers, studying biomechanics and whether swtiching from skiiny slalom skis to fat skis hinders their race performance.
Vail Mountain School/Special to the Vail Daily

VAIL — Dr. Mike Decker is one of those guys who looks at a phenomenon, wonders “what happens next?” and finds out.

For example, he wanted to know whether ski racers switching from skinny slalom skis to fat skis for overall skiing affected their race performance.

“We want to know what happens,” Decker said.

So did eight Vail Mountain School ski racers, which explains how Decker ended up on Golden Peak this week, answering the Great American Question: “How fast can they go?”

Decker is a director and chief scientific officer of the Rocky Mountain Consortium for Sports Research, an Edwards-based nonprofit that conducts research outside a laboratory. Besides that, Decker is a biomechanical consultant in the Human Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Denver.

Kim Gustafson is a part-time ski instructor who moved to the Vail Valley from London, to semi-retire. He loves to ski, but his left knee would not cooperate. After five surgeries, he finally had it replaced.

He started the Consortium a couple years ago and is the executive director.


This particular study is designed to determine the “influence of ski width on muscle activity and turn characteristics in alpine ski racers.”

Decker started collecting data in 2013 with the University of Denver alpine ski team.

In the lab, scientists use optical cameras with hundreds of reflectors to study movement. The Consortium replaced those cameras with wireless sensors worn by the athletes. Those sensors calculate joint angles and determine how muscles are contributing to the motions and forces of the sport.

The Consortium uses inertia measurement units and pressure insoles to measure kinematics (joint motions) and kinetics (forces that cause joint motions).

When they started this particular study in 2013, they discovered a discrepancy in right and left turns in the high-level ski racers with the University of Denver’s alpine ski team.

They also learned that women are more prone to injury in their non-dominant leg.

They’re not certain why … yet … but they’re hopeful the mountains of data they’re collecting will help provide an answer, Decker said.

“If we can understand the skier’s movements and postures, we can understand what puts the skier at risk,” Decker said.

They’re also learning to help improve athletic performance across several fields. Decker spent last summer with the Storm soccer club in Denver.

The Rocky Mountain Consortium collaborates with the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School, Vail-Summit Orthopedics and several other organizations, and is beginning to collaborate with Microsoft, Gustafson said. Many of their research scientists got their start with the Steadman Philippon Research Institute.

They focus on adolescent athletes, and especially women.

By studying elite athletes — the best of the best in their respective sports — the Consortium hopes to eventually understand how the bodies of everyday recreational athletes perform, Gustafson said.


Tanya Boderck is a former ski racer and Vail Mountain School math teacher. She was part of the Rocky Mountain Consortium’s study.

For one week each winter, Vail Mountain School students and staff take a week break from their regular classes — called Intraterm — and do something completely different.

Most kids travel — Hawaii, Baja Sur Mexico, China, New Orleans, California, New Mexico, even Morocco to study Islam and all things Moroccan. This group stayed close to home so that they could continue with their ski race training, and be part of this week’s Rocky Mountain Consortium’s study.

For the Rocky Mountain Consortium study, they set up a racecourse on Golden Peak, hooked eight sensors to the athletes, and off they went.

They’ll compare this data with the DU ski team and others.

“Students are able to do something extraordinary, to have an opportunity they would not normally have,” Boderck said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or