Drone, Lily, GoPro

Uncharted Airspace: Ski resorts prep for impending drone invasion

Uncharted Airspace: Ski resorts prep for impending drone invasion

This week, GoPro joined the drone game when they announced plans for a quadcopter to launch in the second half of next year. CEO Nick Woodman likened the growth in the quad industry to the early days of POV cameras. DJI, Parrot, and 3D Robotics all make consumer geared flying cameras, but it’s the self-flying drone from Lily Robotics that could elevate the age of narcissism in skiing to the skies.

Lily, set to release next year, follows a small circular tracker (in your pocket or on your wrist) with a camera shooting 1080p video. The waterproof camera also shoots 12-megapixel stills, shoots 360 degrees and automatically switches to slow-mo mode when it detects airtime. Lily’s product video opens with a snowboarder tossing a sleek looking drone into the air that follows him down a terrain park. The only problem in marketing aerial follow cams to skiers—at least for now—is that they’re either banned or soon-to-be banned in every ski area.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates all airspace, allows model aircraft operations for recreational purposes and strongly encourages safety guidelines that include flying below 400 feet, avoiding people, stadiums and airports and remaining clear of manned aircraft operations. But the U.S. Forest Service has jurisdiction within special use permitting, including ski areas on National Forest land and activities within ski areas. The Forest Service is currently working with the National Ski Areas Association and specific ski areas to review how each resort addresses recreational and commercial drone use within their rules of use.

“At a resort like Vail, where you see 15-16,000 skiers per day… If everyone had one, you can see how it would be unmanageable,” says Don Dressler, Mountain Resort Program Manager for the U.S. Forest Service. “So, how do you allow for some, not all?”

For now, most resorts are banning drones and all remote-controlled aircraft.

“It’s a safety and density issue,” says Dave Amirault, Director of Sales and Marketing at Sierra-at-Tahoe. “It’s not the most reliable technology. They can fall out of the sky, get lost, hit someone or hit a lift. While amazing, there isn’t a place for them at ski areas.”

Sierra-at-Tahoe implemented a drone policy last December. It’s buried at the bottom of the terms and conditions page in Sierra’s website, but, says Amirault, skiers are going to start seeing verbage front and center as interest grows.

Former pro skier Craig Coker flies drones and multicopters for Sweatpants Media, whose clients include Toyota, Panasonic and Red Bull. He’s made a living in aerial cinematography for more than three years, but says the industry has exponentially increased in the last two years, from single rotor RC copters then to multi-rotor copters.

Coker says stabilization gimbals have progressed from twitchy servo motors to smooth brushless motors that make the picture look incredibly stable no matter how much the person or helicopter moves. “The technology gets better literally every month,” he says.

Took a selfie and got photo bombed by a ufo. @3drobotics #IRISplus #fly3dr

A photo posted by Craig Coker (@craig.coker) on

Coker says his number-one concern since he started flying drones has always been safety. His biggest drone weighs 38lbs and, he says, its carbon frame and props can easily cut someone. “Even if it barely hits you, you’re most likely going to hospital,” says Coker.

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