Imagine pulling off a switch back seven air for the first time, but nobody was there to witness it! Had you pulled this euphoric-evoking aerial maneuver in the terrain park at Brighton Ski Resort in Utah, you could have shown the entire world. Thanks to an automated photo system and the creative mind of Ben Kottke, founder and CEO of Snapsportz, Brighton enables its freestyle skiing and riding customers a chance to capture and broadcast their skills via uploads to Facebook, and beyond.
Developed by Kottke and a group of highly-skilled and tech-savvy friends, the system is basically a camera that is triggered by a chip worn by the skier or snowboarder that activates a remote camera when the wearer is within about 30 feet of the camera sensors. Brighton has two cameras in its terrain park and the response from users has been “fantastic,” Kottke says.
Currently the automated camera system is only operating in the terrain park.
“The younger customers are into social networking. They have no use for a print photo, because the only thing they can do with it is hang it on their bedroom wall. With digital, you can post a photo on Facebook for all your friends to see in an instant, that’s the value,” Kottke says.
The Snapsportz system not only takes user photos but also is capable of storing user information in a database. Having access to that information ultimately has the potential to boost sponsorship revenue and perhaps even create franchising opportunities, Kottke says.
Yet recognizing that most ski areas already have contracted on-hill photo companies who are there to make money selling high-end images of clients skiing and riding, Kottke is careful not to alienate his business with theirs.
“I want to work with photographers, not compete against them,” he says.
To that end, Kottke says his company offers franchise contracts or lease options for the equipment. As part of its service, Snapsportz hosts the corresponding user database.
The technology used is not new to the industry. It’s basic radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Many ski areas, including Brighton, are now using RFID in their lift passes. At Brighton, guests are given a laminated card similar to a credit card in which an activation chip is incorporated.
The system recognizes the pass bearer and codes the photos it takes of that skier or rider. By the time the guest is off the mountain and back at the lodge, the images are ready to be downloaded– and in the case of younger users, ultimately destined to be shared with hundreds via Facebook and other social networks.
All in all, the program is relatively user-friendly. At Brighton, the system involves only two cameras, which are set up each weekend morning and taken down each night. One person can power up a number of cameras remotely at a central management console.
From the user’s perspective, the cost of this program is unbeatable – it’s free. The photos provided are low resolution for use in social media, which in turn means that the market for those skiers and riders seeking higher quality photos is preserved.
The automated camera system also makes it easier to produce action photography in high-traffic, chaotic areas with instant retrieval.
“It’s an effective way for people to get good action shots of themselves in motion, and with RFID technology, those photos are automatically sorted and categorized so there’s no more searching for one’s photos,” says Kottke. Beyond skiing and snowboarding, Snapsportz’s future is unlimited. Kottke says mountain biking, running events, skateboarding, live music concerts, and other activities could all incorporate the system used in the terrain park.
“We’re just barely scratching the surface of what this system can do, but it’s already proved to be a fun, useful marketing toy,” says Jared Winkler, Brighton’s director of marketing. The long-term value, adds Winkler, is the available consumer data.
“Once users log in, we can keep track of them, we can find out where they are from, and how many people were in their party. We can go through a host of analytics and then utilize that information within our broader marketing efforts,” he says.
The sky seems to be the limit on automated camera operations, for both property management and customers alike. In just a short time it definitely has proven to be an attractive enticement for freestylers eager to bestow an ancillary stoke to their watching fans.