Drone likely for X Games Aspen 2020 at Buttermilk Ski Area in January

Drones could be a possibility when X Games Aspen returns in January to Buttermilk Ski Area.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday approved ESPN’s plans to use a drone-mounted camera at next month’s Winter X Games to provide better TV coverage.

“The photography from the drone is going to be awesome,” Commissioner Steve Child said.

The plans must still be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has so far only provided preliminary approval, said Vanessa Anthes, ESPN’s associate director for event management. Provided the approval comes through for the event, which will be held Jan. 23 to 26, those watching on television will definitely notice the new angle, she said.

“We anticipate using it heavily on event days,” Anthes said.

Next month’s Winter X Games will mark the second time ESPN has used a drone at the annual competition, she said. Officials minimally used the device a few years ago atop tower 14 at Buttermilk for one event, but a camera drone has not been used since then, Anthes said.

Commissioner Patti Clapper wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a drone flying above Buttermilk Ski Area, saying it was noisy and akin to “a lawn mower in the sky.” She said she worried about safety issues and wanted to make sure Buttermilk neighbors were notified of the plans.

The drone will “primarily” fly over the competition areas, will not fly over crowds and will not fly higher than 100 feet in a specific flight area, Anthes said. Officials at Aspen’s airport tower — the airport is next door to Buttermilk Ski Area — will be notified when the drone is in the air, and local law enforcement officials will be able to ground the device if they feel public safety is threatened, she said.

The drone could be flying as late as 10:30 p.m., Anthes said.

Board Chairman Greg Poschman said he thinks the drone noise will be negligible compared to the noise from the PA system. He said he wanted neighbors to be aware of the event’s construction schedule, which Anthes said will begin Jan. 13, with full lights scheduled to start Jan. 20 for practice runs.

The 2020 Winter X Games will mark the event’s 19th time in Aspen at Buttermilk.

Commissioner George Newman said he wants to reconsider the time donated to the event by Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputies and officials for next year’s event. He pointed out that officials from the Aspen Ambulance District and the Colorado State Patrol who assist with X Games are compensated by ESPN.

Newman also reminded his fellow board members that the Sheriff’s Office is understaffed and Sheriff Joe DiSalvo recently asked for additional resources to hire more deputies.

“So why isn’t the Sheriff’s Office being compensated?” Newman asked.

Anthes said the decision dates back to a policy directing law enforcement time to be donated to events of community benefit.

Poschman said he supported Newman’s suggestion and wanted the board to take a look at the amount of the subsidy next year.

“I have a real problem subsidizing this,” Poschman said. “I’m not convinced everybody in this county thinks this is such a great idea. ESPN can pay its own way.”