Mountain Drones: In Vail and Telluride, Avalanches Could Soon be Drone-Controlled

For photographers and production companies, drones have become a standard in the backcountry for capturing aerial angles without the high expenses of helicopters. But now, Mountain Drones, a Vail-based start-up company, is taking drones one step farther. The company, which started with a group of friends concerned about avy safety, is planning to use drones for avalanche mitigation.

“Living in Vail for a couple of years, we lost a few friends to avalanche incidents,” Brent Holbrook, one of the co-founders of Mountain Drones, recently told Telluride Daily Planet. “We were wondering if there was any way we could use this new technology to address that danger.”

courtesy of Warren Linde (Telluride Daily Planet)

A Mountain Drone prototype [Photo: Telluride Daily Planet, courtesy of Warren Linde]

Mountain Drones quickly transitioned from creating prototypes that would search for avalanche victims with drones and beacon technology to something a little more proactive. What, exactly, they’re working on is still undisclosed, however, as the company works its way through the patenting process.

“Instead of starting with the problem, why don’t we start at the beginning and make the problem not happen as much?” Holbrook asks. Their goal is to provide ski patrols and departments of transportation with snowpack information, and to use drones instead of helicopters for avalanche mitigation.

As Mountain Drones refines their technology, they aren’t in the process alone. The 2015 Telluride Venture Accelerator, a program of the Telluride Foundation, has accepted Mountain Drones for a five-month long, residential accelerator program, where the company will be mentored and supplied capital to continue developing their products.

“When you have these companies here you want to be able to provide them with places to get feedback from their products or services,” says Thea Chase, Director of Telluride Venture Accelerator. “This is a great place to do a project like [Mountain Drones] because a lot of folks around here know a lot about those issues.”

“There will be clever support on both technical and business sides,” says Warren Linde, Mountain Drones co-founder. “We’ll have some mentors that are business-minded and some other mentors out there mitigating avalanches as we speak.”

In addition to entrepreneurial support, Telluride offers ideal conditions for testing out Mountain Drones’ new products. Telluride’s backcountry, Bear Creek, has frequent avalanches and was only recently reopened after a four-year period of no-access instated by the U.S. Forest Service.

Between the help from Telluride Venture Accelerator and the environment tailored for drone testing, Mountain Drones is considering making the move from Vail to Telluride.

“This is probably the toughest environment that you could fly one of the mechanisms in,” Holbrook says. “We’ve proven that it can be done with our initial prototype and the next prototype we’re looking to build even better.”

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  1. Sounds great wish your group success!!

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