Drones and the Ski Industry: A Natural Partnership

The most noticeable effect the drone era is having on the ski industry is sending shock-waves of stoke down through its constituents in the form of previously impossible video footage of the professional skiers and riders doing their jobs. It’s like trickledown economics, but instead of the economy, it’s the ski industry, and instead dollars somehow finding their way to the masses, it’s the compellingly produced video parts of skiers and riders doing amazing things. It is hard to quantify the impact these videos have on the industry, to do so with a dollar amount would be difficult to accurately report, and I have yet to conceive of a valid metric that measures stoke, other than inches of course. But the effect is undeniable; to be able to vicariously enjoy powder in the middle of summer is invaluable to the industry. The digital media explosion has allowed the ski industry gain an even stronger foothold in the year around economy. The ability to keep its product at the forefront of consumers’ attention in the off-season certainly fattens a profit report, which is particularly important considering climate change is exacting in-season losses. In a study conducted a few years ago, two University of New Hampshire researches estimated the $12.2 billion winter sports industry has seen approximately $1 billion in losses as a result of climate change. Though it hardly requires a professional study to determine that climate change will negatively impact the ski industry.

Drones also represent a more important progression in the industry, one that doesn’t benefit from popularity quite as much, but is certainly heralded within the industry: skier/rider safety. Multiple companies that manufacture drones have developed models equipped with thermal as well as optical cameras. Thermal sensing units greatly increase our capability of locating somebody buried in an avalanche, significantly speeding up the rescue process during the critical 15 minute window of time that someone can survive buried under a slide. Telluride startup Mountain Drones takes it a step further and has been developing drones since 2013 drones that can be equipped with FMCW radar. The device equips the drone to accurately and inexpensively ascertain depth and density of snowpack data, allowing it to determine potential slide prone areas with ease. The story behind Mountain Drones innovation can be read here, and as the author points out, their technology has important implications far beyond the recreation of skiing. Comprehensive snowpack data could be critical in sensible water-management policy as around 80% of water consumed in the Western United States comes from snow melt.

Drones have become somewhat of an icon for the current state of technology; they are a practical symbol of machine replacing the labor of humans, which seems to be a guiding ambition of our technological evolution. Get used to it, automation is here to stay, so I encourage you to get physical, exercise a little humanity, and ski hard this winter.

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About Drew P