The concept of putting a webcam on a winter mountain site was always a great idea in theory, but there was also some expected give-and-take with the actual application.
Take the webcams used at the four Aspen Skiing Co. areas. While the cams offer a real-time view of current weather conditions, the images are grainy and often tinted in a pink hue.
Even the Aspen user-controlled cam, which gives people a 60-second window of opportunity to adjust the camera view and depth, is choppy and can stall when too many users try to access it at the same time.
Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan wanted a better webcam system and turned to Paul Major, the company’s director of information technology.
Major took a vacation to Switzerland in 2012. When he returned, he began looking online for pictures of places he visited there. While searching, Major came across some pictures that used a revolutionary camera called the Roundshot Livecam.
Created by the Seitz Phototechnik company in Switzerland, the Roundshot Livecam D2 HD panoramic camera system is a Web-enabled, high-definition digital image-capture, -display and -distribution system.
The white cameras look a little like the helmets worn by Storm Troopers in the Star Wars movies. The outer white casing is a weather enclosure designed for all climates, including alpine mountains, which protects a 66-megapixel fast-scanning digital camera with Nikon optics.
The Roundshot cameras do not stream live images but rather archive 360-degree images every 10 minutes.
“People accessing the images online are not manipulating the cameras,” Major said. “When they zoom or rotate shots, they’re accessing saved images.”
Additional features include the ability to run a time-lapse collection of archived images, send images via email or post in social media, such as Facebook.
Major said the three criteria for an upgraded webcam system were finding a camera designed for a robust climate, one that would offer upgraded photographic quality, and a system that would be easy to use.
Major knew the Roundshot was the right camera, but Phototechnik did not have an overseas distributor. Major stepped up and opened a company called PanoAlpin.com that allowed him to sell the technology to Skico.
The Roundshot cameras installed throughout Aspen are the first deployment of this technology in the United States.
Skico currently has Roundshot cameras online with views of Aspen Mountain to Snowmass, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk Mountain. A fourth Roundshot camera, based on top of Elk Camp at Snowmass, will go online next week, and a fifth will go on top of Aspen Mountain sometime this winter.
The cameras cost about $20,000 to purchase and install. Major spent many days this past summer testing different shots on all four mountains. The most important factor was finding a location to capture “The Power of Four” shot of all four Skico areas.
“The county and the Forest Service paved the way for us to install the Power of Four cam on Lower Red Mountain,” Major said. “We had to helicopter the equipment up to a radio site just above Starwood. It wasn’t easy, but it gives the iconic shot we were looking for.”