Skylark Drone Research

Skylark Drone Research, a member of the National Ski Areas Association, is developing drone programs for Snowsport/Mountain Bike Resorts. Skylark is sponsoring a study by George Mason University engineering program to provide the research for drones to be used for chairlift inspections.

While model aircraft and drones have been around for many years, the recent introduction of miniaturization for batteries and autopilots has created exponential growth in the market for small drones. December 2015 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)  began requiring anyone who owns a “small unmanned aircraft of a certain weight” to register their device before flying it outdoors, warning those who do not register may face “civil and criminal penalties” Since then, more than

1 million drone owners and aircraft are registered

There are 4 times as many drones registered in the U.S. as there are manned aircraft. This trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Resorts can safely and responsibly manage the resort’s own use of drone operations by adopting, well-developed practices and protocols, training personnel, and having adequate insurance.  One important example of the potential use of drones at resort is the surveillance and inspection of chairlift operations. The ability to use drones to monitor, surveil, and inspect these chairlift operation is similar to the use of drones to monitor transmission lines or pipelines. More regular inspection of lifts would be beneficial to the resort, both in for wintertime snowsports and summertime bike operations.

NSAA reported that the aging lifts in the snowport/mountain bike industry requires more inspections and innovative approaches to preventive maintenance. NSAA Article Video-enabled drones would be more accurate and save an immense amount of labor and time to conduct inspections or monitoring the chairlift. The ability to conduct inspections via drones would greatly minimize the potential for employee injuries, particularly in snowy, icy conditions. 

Furthermore, the use of drones would be extremely effective at surveying lift operations following a severe storm or to detect fallen trees on lifts.  Similarly, drones could be more effective than traditional manpower in detecting or locating an anomaly that is causing a lift stoppage or malfunction. 

Resorts could also use drones to assist during a chairlift malfunction or catastrophic incident when skiers, snowboarders, bikers are stuck while riding the lift.  The use of a drone would promote public safety and, could greatly assist in the evacuation of guests from chairlifts.

Potentially, resort insurance for operating the chairlifts could be reduced using drones to monitor, surveil, or inspect these chairlift operations.

Drones with sensors could map a resort and then provide accurate measurements of snow during the winter sport season.

Commercially, resorts could use drones for marketing and promotional photography, special events, guest videos, and many other commercial opportunities.

To operate drones for resort business or activities, there are regulations for commercial operation of drones and FAA requires a certified Remote Pilot under Part 107 of the regulations operate or supervise the operation of drones.

Skylark Drone Research is sponsoring George Mason University students to research into developing a Ski Lift Inspection and Maintenance System. As part of the Systems Engineering program at GMU, students complete a capstone project over two semesters. The GMU students researched the current state of ski lift inspections and maintenance in the United States and used Bryce Resort as a case study. During the 2018 Spring semester, the students will test their assumptions and models at Bryce Resort with Skylark Drone Research.