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SAIT makes amazing challenge a reality

Some of The Amazing Race Canada contestants had an uplifting experience after choosing SAIT as their Detour destination in the reality television game show that sends players racing all over the world by land, air and water.

Faced with a choice between sim or swim — the show's clever way of hinting at our crane simulation lab and Calgary's Fish Hatchery — four of the teams rushed to SAIT's Mayland Heights campus where we've been offering apprenticeships in Crane and Hoist Equipment Operation since 2015.

Jim Szautner, Associate Dean of the School of Manufacturing and Automation, says he was thrilled when the television franchise chose to feature some of SAIT's high-tech training equipment during its fourth season.

"I can definitely see why they wanted to use our crane simulators for the show," says Szautner. "People are fascinated by cranes and they're fascinated by computers — the simulation lab puts them both together."

A scene from The Amazing Race Canada on July 5, 2016 featuring a crane outside SAIT's Mayland Heights campus. Courtesy CTV Canada,

Courtesy CTV

Amazing efforts

Once they arrived, contestants tried to grasp a skill that usually takes months to learn and years to master — crane operation. Teams had to move a simulated load through a course of twists, turns, ups and downs in under six minutes.

"It's not easy if you've never operated a crane before," says Szautner. "The controls are counterintuitive and even after you figure them out, it takes finesse to move the load smoothly."

There's no doubt contestants found the crane simulators tricky to operate — three of the four teams decided to abandon their original choice and try their hand at catching fish at the fish hatchery instead.

Only one team stuck to their guns — after multiple passes through a path of simulated obstacles, the pair brought their original time of approximately 35 minutes down to just under the required six-minute mark.

Amazing Race Canada competitors Joel and Ashley completing the crane simulator challenge. Courtesy CTV.

The Amazing Race Canada competitors Joel and Ashley were the only team to successfully complete the crane simulator challenge. Courtesy CTV.

Amazing record time

Completing the simulated crane track in six minutes may have seemed like a near impossibility to The Amazing Race players, but Crane Hoist Equipment Operator instructor Jaime Tomlinson can do the same course in 20 seconds.

"I'm a bit faster on an actual crane, but the simulators give you a fairly real experience," says Tomlinson.

Tomlinson has an uncommonly steady hand under pressure — he ran cranes for the British Army and served 26 months in both Bosnia and Rwanda in the late 1990s.

"I was building bridges," he says. "We'd do it in the dark with one glow stick attached to the hook so we could see it. I would be under fire, so I had to get the job done quickly."

Years of practice have made Tomlinson an ace crane operator, but he says it comes more naturally to some than others.

"It's a lot about hand-eye coordination and depth perception," he says. "Not everything can be taught."

Amazing student experience

It was a proud day for faculty and staff involved in the The Amazing Race's day on campus, but one SAIT student was lucky enough to get a job on set.

Shawn Elgby, second-year Film and Video Production student, was quick to act on an email from his instructor about the opportunity to work on the show during filming in Calgary.

"The moment I heard they were coming to SAIT I was really excited," says Elgby who worked on the show as the Lead Location Production Assistant — a role covering a lot of territory.

"It's doing whatever is needed, whenever it's needed, so you never really know what you'll be doing," he says.

Elgby says the pace of the day was all over the place — with periods of waiting colliding with the speed and energy of arriving contestants.

"It would be quiet and then suddenly everyone was rushing — it was fascinating to see people working so quickly," he says.

Jim Szuatner was the "instructor" during The Amazing Race Canada crane simulator challenge.

Jim Szautner, Associate Dean with the School of Manufacturing and Automation, played a role in The Amazing Race Canada, July 5, 2016

Amazing cranes

The Crane Hoist equipment Operating program was developed on the request of Alberta and Industry Training (AIT).

"AIT came to us for innovative training solutions," says Szautner. "Teaching crane operation in the yard is very expensive because it requires so much supervision in order to be safe. The simulators provide an opportunity for our students to practice without an instructor present and without the lengthy set up that's required when you run a real crane."

More practice means students are better equipped to handle the unexpected when they're working in the industry.

If you missed it, watch season four, episode two of The Amazing Race Canada featuring SAIT on ctv.ca.

July 6, 2016

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