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Can I use drones on ski slopes?

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I own a Mavic Pro 2 drone with the fly more combo from DJI. And I absolutely love to fly it. I also love skiing. So, of course, I wanted to see, if I could combine the two.

But can I use my drone in ski resorts?

The quick answer is, no, you probably can’t use your drone on ski resorts. Most ski resorts around the world have banned drones for safety reasons. Some resorts allow limited use of drones within a restricted area. Almost all resorts require you to fill out a lot of permits in order to get permission to fly whether you’re flying for commercial reasons or just for fun. Some resorts offer a drone service, where you pay a professional pilot to film you, while you ski down the slopes. 

Let’s dive into this in more detail below, and explore why you probably can’t fly your drone in the ski resort, if there are alternatives to flying your drone over the slopes, and which ski resorts allow drones.

This article focuses on the use of drones for recreational purposes only.

While I’ve gone to great lengths in order to research this topic, I can’t guarantee, that everything is 100 percent correct. There can be small details, that vary from resort to resort. Rules and regulations might also have changed since I wrote it (though I’ll try my best to keep it updated). So you’re always advised to do your own research before you fly your drone anywhere.

Why can’t I use drones in ski resorts?

The reason why most ski resorts have banned drones is for safety precautions.

You’ve probably seen the now-famous clip of Marcel Hirscher’s 2nd run at Madonna di Campiglio Slalom from 2016, where he nearly gets taken out by a tv-drone. If you haven’t, well here it is:

The first reason, why you’re not allowed to fly a drone at ski resorts is, well, the drone might crash and you might hit someone. Most consumer drones aren’t built for flying in the mountains in freezing conditions. The drone in the video above was. And still, it crashed. So naturally, ski resorts are cautious about allowing drones in the air. Consumer drones are still a fairly new technology.

The second reason, why you’re not allowed to fly a drone at most ski resorts is that rescue helicopters operate in the area. The last thing you’d want is to have your drone flying into the rotary wings of a rescue helicopter and – in a worst-case scenario – cause the helicopter to crash.

You’d also not want your drone to fly into a chair lift filled with people or getting entangled in one of the ski lift pillars. 

Most ski resorts are privately owned spaces. So they make the rules. The best and wisest thing you can do is to follow them.

There are also privacy concerns involved. As soon as you put a camera on a drone, everything becomes even more difficult.

Then there are also the basic practicalities of flying a drone. It is not uncommon for a larger ski resort to see 15-16,000 skiers per day. Now, imagine if a 1,000 of those had a drone in the air. Or maybe 2,500? Or even just 500!? It spells disaster. 

What do I need to think about if I decide to take my drone skiing?

Now some resorts do allow for drone usage to an extent, which I’ll get back to in a moment. So if you do take your drone with you on your next ski trip, here are a few things to keep in mind.

A mountain is an extreme environment. Even if it has groomed slopes and a restaurant near the peak.

What that means is, that the weather can change in a moment. It’s not uncommon to have sudden, strong gusts of wind coming over the top of a ridge with lots of blowing snow included. Or you might just ski around the face of the mountain, and suddenly you’re hit with a 45 mile an hour wind.  Both situations can make you lose control of your drone, and possibly hurt someone.

It’s also very hard to control your drone, while you ski. And the autonomuos tracking system in most consumer drones isn’t good enough to track you down the slopes.

While the tracking system in your drone might do a good job tracking you on a road or a field, the conditions on a mountain are very different. The glistening snow (a low contrast condition), the sun, the wind, the blowing snow  (which can get stuck on the sensors and camera of the drone) all make the tracking software in most consumer drones pretty much useless.

Also, the batteries on drones don’t work as well in freezing conditions. So you won’t get the flight time, you’re used to. The sudden shift in temperature from hot to cold is not very good for intelligent flight batteries. It’s not good for any batteries actually.

Always remember to check the wind speed and wind direction and take into account the reduced battery time before you put your drone in the air. If your drone has a tailwind on the flight out, it might not have enough battery power to get safely back again, and your drone might end up in a crevasse or – worse – hitting another skier.

You also run the risk of the rotors and/or rotor blades freezing over because of the moisture and snow blowing in the air and the sub-zero temperatures. And then you might see your drone come crashing down as well.

What good alternatives are there to flying a drone myself while skiing?

I’m a videographer and photographer by trade. So I always think in terms of camera angles. So naturally, the thought of taking my Mavic Pro with me on my next ski trip was one of the first things, that came to my mind.

I equally wanted to get some cool footage of me skiing down the slopes, but also of the beautiful nature. 

But I quickly learned, that taking my drone with me, was a no go most of the places, I like to ski.

So I’ve begun to look for alternatives to using a drone, in order to still be able to get some cool shots from above.

So what can you do, if you aren’t allowed to use a drone in the ski resort, but still want some cool footage of you skiing? 

Pay for drone shots by licensed drone pilots

The first option is to pay for drone shots by licensed drone pilots who are allowed to fly at the resort.

You could of course hire a licensed drone pilot and get him or her to work out all the legal details with the resort, the local authorities etc.

That would be a very costly option though. And you might even have to pay not only for the licensed operator but also for local ski patrol, to accompany the drone operator too.

There is no guarantee, that you will be allowed to film yourself on groomers though. A more likely scenario will be in some off-piste terrain away from ski lifts and other tourists.

A few resorts across the globe (I’ve read of some in France and Colorado) are testing out the possibilities for buying drone footage of yourself while skiing. E.g. you can hire a drone and drone operator and use the drones in selected areas away from the hard packed slopes and ski lifts.

There are also some tests being done with autonomous drones, which can follow you in the snow park, by tracking your iPhone.

Unfortunately, I’ve not seen any green lights being given for any of the services yet, though.

Get away from the resort for some nice footage

While the resort area might be off limits for any drone usage, there’s always the possibility, that you get out of the resort and find a nice place to fly your drone.

If you’re in a fairly big mountainous area, you can still get a lot of beautiful shots of the mountains. And you might even be able to get a shot of some of the slopes and people skiing from a distance.

Just make sure, that you always check the rules for flying a drone in the country, you’re flying in before you take off. Drone rules are not the same across the globe.

Use a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a telezoom lens to get some cool footage

You can always use a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a telezoom to get some cool footage.

I do a lot of filming with the Panasonic GH5, which has excellent image stabilization and is also weather sealed. It can also film in slow-motion, for some very cool looking footage. Filming in slow-motion further reduces shaky footage.

You can also put a camera like the GH5 on a gimbal and have a friend hold while filming you, while you ski down the mountain.

Or you can put it on a tripod and use a telezoom to film your friend skiing down the mountain. Find a nice elevated spot for those birds-eye view shots. Or lay flat on the ground for filming those jumps and make them look even higher.

I know this isn’t drone footage, but don’t rule out the standard DSLRs or mirrorless for shooting your next skiing or snowboarding trips. That footage might actually be the best footage, you end up with.

I’m definitely bringing my GH5 for my next ski trip in order to shoot some cool B-roll for my archives. You never know, when such footage might come in handy.

Use the Birdie to throw your GoPro camera

You can use the low tech device called ‘Birdie’ to throw a GoPro into the air, and then catching some cool photos and footage from above.

The Birdie is a parachute-like device. You strap your GoPro inside the Birdie, start the recording and throw Birdie into the air.

It’s a really simple solution, and it’s much cheaper than buying an actual drone.

It might take some practice throwing it yourself though. You should consider asking a friend to throw it for you, while you grind those rails.

Since the flight time is very limited, you’re better off setting your GoPro to record in slow-motion. The GoPro 7 Black offers 240 frames per second (fps) at 1080p (FullHD resolution). At 240 fps your airtime or smooth carving turns will look so much cooler plus the footage will be much less shaky looking and longer.

Of course, there’s also the good ol‘ selfie-stick, which can give you some nice footage of your skiing.

Film your friends from a chair lift

With a little bit of planning, you can easily film your friends skiing from a chairlift. I’ve even seen several chairlifts above snow parks.

So if grinding rails or doing 360s in the air is your thing, you should be able to get some nice footage from a birdseye view from a ski lift.

Which ski resorts allow drones?

So which ski areas allow drones, and to what extent?

Naturally, I can’t name every ski resort out there, so I’ve decided to try and break it down into different parts of the world.

I’ve decided to focus solely on recreational drone flights, as commercial pilots have to follow some other guidelines.

Which US ski resorts allow drones?

If you’re going skiing in the US and plan to bring your drone, unfortunately, I’ve got some bad news for you.

In most ski resorts across the USA, flying a drone is strictly forbidden. The ban includes recreational as well as commercial flights.

The National Ski Area Association (NSAA), which represents over 300 alpine resorts that account for more than 90 percent of the skier and snowboarder visits in the US, has drawn up a drone policy which bans the use of drones. Most of the resorts have adopted this policy.

There is room for special permits, but you definitely has to have a very good reason for flying. Wanting to film your friends on the slopes isn’t gonna cut it.

If you think, you have a good reason, always contact the resort and take it from there.

You can always check the rules for each resort, by searching on google for drone rules or drone policy and then the name of the resort. E.g. if you search for vail drone rules, you come up with this site

If you’ve bought a drone and want to use it in the US, you should always register it at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). They have a website dedicated to this at federaldroneregistration.com.

Flying a drone in Utah ski resorts

Utah has some of the best possibilities for flying a drone at ski resorts according to skiutah.com A special permit is still required though. And it is not all of the resorts in Utah, which allow for drone usage.

In Brighton, you’re allowed to use an automated drone. You still need a special permit, and the number of flights per day is limited. Also, automated drone use is restricted to specific ski runs and specific timeframes. If you want to fly a drone in Brighton, you have to register at the Resort Sports Desk before any drone flights.

Other resorts that do allow flying a drone in Utah (if you’ve got a special permit) are Alta Ski Area, Brian Head Resort, Eagle Point Resort, Nordic Valley, Park City, Powder Mountain, Snowbasin, Snowbird and Sundance. 

Which ski resorts in Canada allow drones?

It is unlikely, that you’ll get to fly your drone in any Canadian ski resorts for recreational purposes.

Transport Canada has recently updated their policy on drone usage in the country.

The rules, according to Transport Canada, for flying a drone in Canada (for recreational purposes) are:

You are not allow to fly your drone:

  • higher than 90 m above the ground
  • closer than 30 m away from vehicles, vessels and the public (when your drone weighs over 250 g and up to 1 kg)
  • closer than 76 m away from vehicles, vessels and the public (when your drone weighs over 1 kg and up to 35 kg)
  • closer than 5.6 km away from aerodromes (any airport, seaplane base or area where aircraft take off and land)
  • closer than 1.9 km away from heliports or aerodromes used by helicopters only
  • inside a controlled or restricted airspace
  • closer than 9 km away from a natural hazard or disaster area
  • in areas where its use could interfere with police or first responders
  • during the night and in clouds
  • out of sight
  • more than 500 m away from yourself
  • if the drone isn’t clearly marked with your name, address and telephone number

Now, this could trouble for many drone users, even for those who like to ski off-piste in the backcountry. In the backcountry, you have helicopters both for heliskiing and rescue helicopters.

Also, when you consider the part, that says “area where aircraft take off and land” it could mean a lot of places. I’ve personally seen helicopters land on small spots of horizontal ground on a mountainside.

And you’re not allowed to fly closer than 76 meters from the public, which means a busy ski run is off limits.

Bottom line: don’t bring your drone on your next ski trip to Canada.

Which ski resorts in the Alps allow drones?

The regulations for using a drone in Europe vary from country to country. It even varies from resort to resort within each country. So as a general rule of thumb, you should always check with the resort first, before you decide to bring your drone.

Below you’ll find some guidelines from popular ski destinations in the Alps of Western Europe.

Which ski resorts in France allow drones?

In France, recreational drones are categorized as model aircraft, and those rules are pretty strict.

In France, you can’t fly drones over populated zones.

You can’t fly at night.

You also can’t fly your drone above 150 meters, and must always keep the drone within your field of view and at a maximum distance of 200 meters.

If you’re planning to overfly a populated area (like a ski resort), you’d need an authorization from the 
Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC).

Depending on your location, you might also have to warn the police and city hall.

In the interactive map below from the French government, you can see where you may and may not fly in France:

Which ski resorts in Switzerland allow drones?

The rules for flying a drone in Switzerland are pretty similar to those in France, which means taking a glorified ski selfie with your drone at ski resorts is a big no go.

You don’t need a license to fly a drone unless it weighs more than 30 kg. But still, there are a lot of restrictions you have to follow.

You’re not allowed to fly closer than 5 km to airfields and heliports.

You also can’t fly more than 150 m above the ground in control zones.

You’re not allowed to fly where emergency services are working, and you always have to keep a distance of at least 100 m from groups of people.

You shall always have contact with your drone.

If you do fly in Switzerland, keep out of special nature conservation areas and always check with local authorities about special restrictions in the area.

If you fly a drone more than 500 g, you’re obliged to have insurance coverage of at least 1 million Swiss francs.

The Swiss Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) has published an interactive RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) map, which shows where you may and may not fly your drone in Switzerland:

Which ski resorts in Austria allow drones?

When flying a drone in Austria, there are also some rules, that you have to follow.

You’re not allowed to fly over crowds without special permission so that rules out flying over busy ski runs. And of course, you also have to keep away from airports.

You have to be at least 16 years old in order to fly a drone, and, like in Switzerland, you have to have a liability insurance.

You can forget all about flying in cities, towns or ski resorts without a pilots license and a lot of paperwork.

It is important to note, that drones in Austria are classified in terms of joules. If your drone uses less than 79 joules kinetic energy, it is classified as a toy. As it so happens, 79 joules corresponds to a weight of approximately 250 grams (.55 lbs) when operating at a max height of 30 meters (98 feet).

What that means is, that even a toy drone under 250 gram will exceed the 79 joules of kinetic energy if flown above 30 meters, in which case you’d need a permit from Austro Control.

If your drone uses more than 79 joules of kinetic energy, you have to register the drone at Austro Control.

You can use the app Drone Space, as a guideline to where, you may fly in Austria. It is available for both Android and iPhone.

Which ski resorts in Italy allow drones?

Italy is such a beautiful country, and I would love to put my drone up in the sky above one of the ski resorts. But Italy – like rest of Europe – have some stringent rules as well.

It is strictly forbidden to flyve over people, houses, roads and vehicles, and you have to keep a safe distance of 150 meters from crowded areas (like busy ski slopes).

In Italy, you must always keep your drone within the line of sight. You need a spotter (a friend who can watch the drone with his eyes), if you’re using FPV-goggles.

You should always keep a distance from the airport of at least 5 km.

You always have to keep the drone within a range of 200 meters (650 feet) from where you’re standing. And you’re not allowed to fly above a height of 70 meters (230).

You don’t need a drone license to fly a drone in Italy unless it weighs more than 25 kg (55 lbs) and power is under 15 KW. There aren’t even any age restrictions for flying a drone either.

You don’t need insurance either, but it is highly recommended to get one anyway.

What this means is, that you can’t take your drone with you, if you ski mostly on busy ski slopes. However, you might have a shot, if you head out into the backcountry for some off-piste skiing, as long as you keep away from helipads etc.

So, for now, if you’re a groomer like myself, your best bet is probably to watch one of the videos from licensed commercial pilots instead:

Which ski resorts in Japan allow drones?

Drones are legal to fly in Japan, and some ski resorts even allow you to fly your drone as well.

While you don’t need a license to fly your drone in Japan, you do need to follow some basic guidelines, which are not that different from those in the US og Europe.

You still have to keep away from airports (9 km) and densely populated areas (with 4,000 people per square kilometer or more).

You need to fly at daytime and always within a Visual Line of Sight (VLOS).

You also have to keep a safe distance of 30 meters (98 feet) away from people and buildings, as well as vehicles such as trains and cars.

You’re not allowed to fly above 150 meters (492 feet).

You also can’t fly over large groups of people, so again, don’t fly over busy slopes or restaurants in the terrain or apres ski area.

A lot of resorts in Japan have banned the use of drones, but luckily some haven’t. Here you’ll find a list of resorts, which allow you to fly your drone:

Resorts in Japan where drones are banned Resorts in Japan where you can fly your drone
Charmant Hiuchi Arai (with a permission)
Furano Grandeco (with a permission)
Hakuba Happo-one Maiko (with a permission)
Hirafu Hakuba Iwatake (with a permission)
Jigokudani Monkey Park Norikura (not while lifts are running)
Madarao Kogen Takatsueee (within restricted zones)
Myokokogen  
Niseko  
Onze  
Rusutsu  
SkiJam Katsuyama  
Charmant Hiuchi  

Credit for the list above: madaraokogen.com

Drone laws in Japan are fairly new. So this may change anytime. So you’re always adviced to contact you travel agency, the resort or the hotel, you’re staying in to check up on the current status.

What will happen, if I get caught flying a drone in a ski resort?

Well first of all: don’t fly a drone in a ski resort. Then you won’t have to worry about getting caught.

But if you’re still wondering, what will happen if you were to fly a drone in a ski resort without the proper permission, here it is.

Penalties for flying a drone without prior permission may range from having your drone confiscated to having your ski pass revoked – or both. That can get pretty expensive fast. But it can get even more expensive.

You might also receive a hefty fine. E.g. in France, if you fly over a prohibited area, you risk a fine up to €15,000 ($17,240) as well as 6 months imprisonment.

In Austria, you can risk a fine of up to €22,000.

In Japan, you risk getting arrested and also risk a fine of up to 500,000 yen (€3,390/$4,460).

Drones at ski resorts. Could you? Should you?

So even if you could take your drone on your next ski trip, does it mean you should?

Maybe it is better to just focus on skiing, while you’re there.

If you decide to bring your drone, the safest choice is to get away from the resorts and find a place to get some good B-roll of the mountaintops in the snow to spice it up a bit. You can get all the cool close-up shots with a DSLR or GoPro.

If you got the cash, you could hire a commercial drone pilot from the area. Commercial pilots are well educated and know all the rules (at least they should know all the rules), and then you can focus on doing your thing on the slopes or in the snow park.

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