Featured NewsDrones Drive Advances in Winter Sports Coverage

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Over three weeks in 2022, North America's Natural Selection Tour features competitive freeriding at three different, wide-open and natural large-terrain venues. Unfortunately, the massive size of the venues makes conventional broadcast techniques—such as static cameras, follow-riders armed with Go-Pros, and cameras on pre-rigged cable systems—less than up to the task of capturing the true excitement of the events.

But 39-year-old Travis Rice—one of the most influential snowboarders of the past two decades—devised a way to capture the drama of the National Selection Tour's scenery, runs, and riders with a visceral, cinematic intensity.

All it took was stealing a few licks from the video-gaming world and ultizing high-speed racing drones.

"Over the years of trial-and-error with filmmaking, we realized pretty early on that the nature of this event—and how large and complicated the event venues are—meant it had to be captured in a special way," said Rice, who has worked on more than 20 snowboarding films. "I wanted to deliver an immersive experience. For example, people are used to looking at that third-person shooter angle in video games, so I feel like providing a familiar way of experiencing and watching something reduces a barrier to entry."

To achieve the desired thrills, Rice's cinematography team uses custom, high-speed racing drones—reportedly the first time this level of technology has been used in live broadcast.

THE DRONES

Gabriel Kocher—a Swiss aerial cinematographer who is also a professional drone racer—helped come up with the gear to make it all happen. Kocher created a system on an X8 drone platform with eight motors, a customized gimbal, a full broadcast system, and stabilization features. The system delivers extreme agility and speeds of up to 100 miles per hour.

It's also more than the average drone pilot/cameraperson can typically handle.

"It requires an athlete's performance to capture the athlete's performance," says Kocher, who used his seven years of drone-racing experience to capture the right footage. "When a rider is just going smooth, I'm trying to tap into my cinematography background, but if they are gunning through the trees, and I need to throw the drone through some turns just to catch up with them. It's definitely a culmination of the drone-racing skill set and the love for riding and snowboarding—to see them and to be able to anticipate what's going to happen."
 
Basic drone filming has been used in sports for many years, but the speed and agility of Kocher's custom-built models have already inspired other competitions to follow suit—such as the legendary Kitzbuhel downhill skiing race.
 
"The system lends itself really well to extreme sports, as well as car racing, skiing, and mountain biking," explains Kocher. "Its place is in bigger outdoor venues where it's impossible to rig cameras everywhere. I can see a lot of applications for this."
 
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