How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love VR (Aka Trying the Dew VR Snow Experience at #BUSO)

The last time I got psyched out on a fake experience with heights was at the top of the CN Tower. From 1975 it was the tallest manmade structure on Earth, until it got beat out by a couple of ambitious architects from the UAE and Guangzhou, just a few years ago.

To be honest there’s not that much to see once you get up there. So to make up for this, the good folks at the CN tower have found other ways to make the experience as thrilling as possible. You can go on a cable-walk around the outside of the tower, which looks terrifying (also, they make you wear what looks like a prison jumpsuit). There’s a super thick plate-glass floor, which you can stand on and feel as if you’re floating in thin air, very high above a particularly well-kept train set.

On this day, everyone was enjoying this glass floor except me. Small kids were throwing themselves down onto it and leaving gross kid smudges everywhere. Even my middle-aged mom squatted down to get a better shot through her fancy SLR.

As for me, a fist had come shooting out of the survival part of my lizard brain and snatched hold of my conscious one, making it physically impossible to step out onto that glass, as if I had been considering stepping out into the void.

This whole lengthy anecdote was written to tell you: this is was my first thought as I stepped into the Mountain Dew Dome at the Burton US Open last weekend to try their new virtual reality Snow Experience.

A follow-up to their immensely successful Virtual Reality Skate experience last year, which allowed you to push through arcades in Vegas with P-Rod and Sean Malto, Dew VR Snow was shot in the back country of Utah by Jack Mitrani, the only guy who could both use a camera and keep up. I knew there was a helicopter involved, not to mention some pro-level shredding with Dew team riders Danny Davis and Scotty Lago down the side of what was sure to be an insanely high mountain.

But I’d been flown out here to try this thing, and I’m no wimp (except when it comes to transparent architecture). Once inside the Dew Dome, a friendly member of the DEW team straps you into an Oculus DK2 headset, a prototype currently only available to approved digital agencies, developers, and hardcore nerds. You’ll feel them clap a pair of headphones over your ears and all of a sudden you’re in the back country of Utah, watching Danny Davis flip burgers over a crackling fire, his hair as every bit as deserving of a shampoo commercial as it is in real life. Scotty is chilling nearby, and Jack is strumming his guitar. It’s a chill scene until I hear the whop-whop-whop of a chopper coming in behind me, that is. (Dew VR Snow has what’s called “sliding audio,” so that when I turn around the sound that was in my left ear automatically shifts to my right.) Unfortunately or fortunately for us, the most completely untouched, to-die-for-pow is best reached by helicopter, and that’s what’s next.

Even two years ago, an experience like this would not have been possible. Pioneering VR headset company Oculus still struggled with a problem called “simulator sickness,” or in nerd slang, “Rift Sickness.” Similar to the nausea caused by sitting still in a car while your eyes and ears perceive movement, early versions of the Oculus Rift headset had early adopters barreling out of demonstrations in search of the nearest garbage can.

This was finally fixed last year, however, leading the New York Times magazine to gingerly report that now Oculus was “non-nauseating.”

Strapped in to the headset in the Mountain Dew Dome at the US Open, I can testify that it is non-nauseating—except maybe for the fact I’m standing on a helicopter which is taking off? To elevate the thrill of the experience, the (evil) geniuses at Firstborn, the digital agency who created this experience in partnership with DEW, stand you on the cage which carries your boards outside the heli (thoughtful—thanks guys) and you can look down and watch yourself lift off the ground. I grab the bar strategically placed by the DEW team within white-knuckle distance and brace myself while Virtual Danny and Virtual Scotty, safe inside the helicopter, carry on at maximum stoke.

This is the part where you remind yourself that you are not really standing on the outside of a helicopter, but are in fact in a tent at the Burton US Open, with other booths giving away free protein bars and sunglasses to the throb of dubstep just a few feet away.

But it was awesome!

As someone whose New Year’s resolution list has contained “learn to snowboard” for at least five years already, the Dew VR Snow Experience was the most fun I’ve had digitally since I figured out how to send an SMS on a brickphone my dad gave me when I was 14. After we landed atop a mountain in the Wasatch Range, being able to fly down the side of an advanced-rider-level mountain behind two of the most fun pro-athletes in the world was an experience I’ll probably never forget.

A lot of the other people trying Dew VR Snow Experience seemed to think so too; I remember watching a couple of guys woo-hooing at what I presume was the same point in the vid. A special button, new to this VR experience, also allows you to rewind in case you want re-experience a particularly epic jump or go back and snatch a view of something at a new angle.

For Samsung users, Dew VR Snow is now available in the Milk VR app. When I spoke to Chuck Massuci and Katie O’Brien, the creative and technical leads from Firstborn, who create all kinds of exclusive content for DEW, they both agreed that VR headsets are going to be the next big consumer item, especially with competitors to Oculus Rift appearing all the time.

Until then, we’re going to be rocking both Dew VR Snow and Dew VR Skate at our massive Green Label Live event at South By Southwest in Austin 03/18 (more details on that to come this week), as well as at Dew Tour in various cities throughout the year. Keep an eye out for them and check out a YouTube cut of some of the highlights of Dew VR Snow here.

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