By Vickie Aldous Mail Tribune
Mt. Ashland Ski Area officials have declared the area a “no drone zone.”
Under a new policy that went into effect Dec. 23, people may not fly drones over the ski area without prior written permission from managers.
“It’s not appropriate to have drones flying over crowds or chairlifts,” said Hiram Towle, ski area general manager. “We can’t have an unskilled drone operator crashing a drone down on skiers and snowboarders.”
Signs have been put up at the ski area informing the public about the new policy.
“Out of safety concerns for guests, employees and resort property, as well as concerns about individual privacy, Mt. Ashland Ski Area prohibits operation or use of unmanned aerial systems, or drones, by the general public — including recreational users and hobbyists — without the prior written authorization from Mt. Ashland management,” the signs read.
The prohibition applies to drones launched from the ski area or flying over the ski area.
The policy also applies to journalists.
People who fly drones without permission could face negative consequences.
“Any violation of this policy may involve suspension of your skiing or snowboarding privileges, or the revocation of your season pass, as well as confiscation of any drone equipment, and may subject violators to any damages, including, but not limited to, damages for violations of privacy and/or physical or personal injuries or property damage, as well as regulatory fines and legal fees,” the signs warn.
Anyone who is given permission to fly must follow all regulations regarding drones. Ski area managers may require certification, training, insurance coverage, indemnification requirements and waivers or releases of liability.
Towle said if anyone is granted permission to fly over the ski area, it would likely be commercial drone operators.
The ski area already has been approached by commercial operators who would like to video the area from the air for marketing purposes, Towle said.
If a commercial operator is ever granted authorization, the operator would have to follow safety measures devised by ski area managers, such as not flying near crowds or chairlifts, he said.
Some ski areas already have teamed with commercial drone operators to shoot marketing video. Some commercial operators have offered personalized video services to skiers and snowboarders who want their exploits captured.
With drone use on the rise, the National Ski Areas Association has crafted sample drone policy language for ski areas to adopt.
The policy language on the “no drone zone” signs at the Mt. Ashland Ski Area is similar to language adopted by many ski areas around the country.
While voicing concerns about drone dangers, officials with the National Ski Areas Association also have pointed to potential benefits from drones. They could be used to inspect chairlifts, for marketing purposes and to help in search-and-rescue operations.
Earlier this week, three snowboarders became lost after they went outside the Mt. Ashland Ski Area’s boundaries. They were rescued after spending a night out in the cold and were treated for mild hypothermia.
Internationally, drones were banned from World Cup races after a drone with a television camera crashed and shattered just a few feet from Austrian skier Marcel Hirscher during a December race.
Towle said the Mt. Ashland Ski Area does not regulate helmet-mounted GoPro video cameras that have become increasingly common on the mountain.
He said helmet-mounted cameras don’t pose the same safety risk as aerial drones.
Skiers and snowboarders also use their cellphones to shoot video at the ski area — sometimes while on the move.
Visitors have spotted parents on the Sonnet beginners’ hill skiing or snowboarding while filming their children learning to ski or ride.
Towle said if unsafe behavior is observed regarding cellphone cameras, the ski patrol may step in to remind people to focus on their own skiing or snowboarding. But mainly, it’s up to visitors to use common sense.
“We rely on people’s personal judgment to do the right thing,” he said.