drone

Cape Productions is first to market with drone services at ski areas. Photo from Cape Productions

A fast-growing company that shoots and sells aerial drone footage of skiers and snowboarders has landed exclusive contracts with Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline for 2015-16.

"We've got big plans for Hood," says Cape Productions President and COO Louis Gresham.

California-based Cape Productions recently landed $10 million in venture capital and is signing exclusive contracts with U.S. ski areas after testing their services out in Canada. Their aggressive foray into the drone business comes as mountain resorts tighten regulations on the public use of drones.

Mt. Hood Meadows spokesman Dave Tragethon says the general public will no longer be allowed to use drones at Meadows without first getting a permit. "Any other drone usage will require special permission from Mt. Hood Meadows to make sure that the operator has gone through all the permitting required," says Tragethon. "Otherwise it’s expressly banned by the Forest Service."

Tragethon says contracting with one company with all the necessary permits and insurance makes sense. "So many more people want to bring their drones up as they get more popular," he says. "We just can’t see that working, dozens or hundreds of people with their own drones.”

The way Tragethon and Meadows envision it, the Cape Production deal will result in "very limited usage on just a few designated trails. It's not like there will be drones all over the place. It will be very low impact, not a nuisance, basically unseen by most users."

Gresham says Cape Productions usually starts out setting up on "a run that is difficult enough for advanced skiers to have fun and show off their chops, but not so difficult that families and kids can’t go there. We try to start off with the one-size-fits-all thing, then expand from there.”

Cape will contract with about four employees at each resort, including a commercial pilot licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. Customers can sign up online or in person, meet Cape staffers at a kiosk on the mountain, and get filmed by the drones while riding. After completing their runs with the drone following at up to 40 miles per hour, customers will get electronic files of edited and raw video footage to share with friends and family, or add to their own video edits.

Prices will vary from resort to resort, costing about $150 at big resorts like Winter Park and less at relatively smaller resorts like Timberline and Meadows. Gresham says the goal is to go for quality rather than quantity, "customers who are really into the product, people we can really pay attention to and give the white-glove treatment and make a premium experience."

After achieving some success up North with Canadian Mountain Holidays, Big White, Fernie and Revelstoke, Cape Productions has landed contracts for the coming winter with Winter Park and Copper Mountain in Colorado, Timberline and Meadows in Oregon, Powder Mountain in Utah, Homewood Mountain in Cali, Mountain Creek in New York and Schweitzer Mountain in Idaho. They also have formed a partnership with the National Ski Areas Association, which has been cracking down on unpermitted public drone use across the U.S.

Gresham says he and Cape Productions CEO Jason Soll experimented with GoPros and drones in their own riding before coming to the conclusion that "owning a drone is quite the responsibility. You still have to edit the video yourself, which is a lot of work. You have to carry around batteries and transmitters. And there's all these regulations.

"The cool thing that started the company was Jason saying, 'Hey, people don't want to own these robots. Let's just give people awesome video and take care of all that hassle for them, as a company. I'm shocked that no one has tried it before us. Either it's a great idea and we're just first to market, or else we're totally insane. Either way, it will be really, really fun."

Here's some Cape Productions drone footage of Ted Ligety and the U.S. Ski Team training in New Zealand, creating some beautiful angles in the gates:

How will the Mount Hood community respond?

That remains to be seen.

Diehard skier Bo Grayzel, who owns the ReRack shop in Portland, says, "Seems like a legit service to me. People love video of them doing cool stuff and these helicopters that can follow you and shoot from multiple direction will probably produce amazing footy."

Mt. Hood regular (and would-be drone entrepreneur) Dan Kneip adds, "Since my drone rental business never got off the ground I am jealous. I decided it would take too much capital as the technology was changing so fast. I'll have to see how it plays out. My first thought was that it would be annoying, tying up ski-able terrain and creating a buzzing sound overhead. Using it for events like races makes sense, for individuals who just want a video of themselves, not so much."

In Emilio Trampuz’s opinion, “It will be a fad for a while and then will gradually fade away.”

Skier and Racer mom Amy Weissfeld adds:

I love being outside and on the mountain in part because it’s an escape. I certainly don’t want to hear or see a drone filming on a regular basis. Maybe this is an over-reaction on my part, and it will be no more intrusive than the chairlift. Somehow though, I don’t think so. Exciting technical development; I just hope it can be balanced against the desire for a “natural” outdoor experience. (Ironic, I know, since we’re talking about lift serviced terrain).

Skiyente Ski Club's Sandi Shaub adds:

I'm not interested in standing around waiting for somebody to be videoed because they have the money to do this.  I've paid for my lift ticket to enjoy the mountain, open to the public, not to wait for the 'rich' to have exclusive use of an area, only if for a few moments.  During the weekend there is already plenty of mountain restricted because of race courses and snowboard parks.  (Race courses are providing activity for a large number of people and snowboard parks tend to help segregate boarders and skiers, which has a safety advantage.)  More restriction, just for a few, seems inappropriate.

For more community comments, see "7 Perspectives on the New Commercial Drone Video Services on Mount Hood."

So what do you think?

A good move by Meadows and Timberline, to bring in this commercial drone outfit?

Or not so much?

Comments? Opinions?