Early in 2020 we volunteered at the Loppet Winter Festival, a large urban ski and fat-tire bike race. We set up a medical command center and helped at the aid stations. This event, sit in a hilly park, gave us the idea to convert retired construct light trailers to Amateur Radio use- we are up to eleven of these.
In December, I poked gently at my boss there to inquire about opportunities for us in 2021. The Loppet has been meeting with health officials on how to hold outdoor events safely. COVID-19 seems to transmit poorly outdoors, so the idea is to spread out the participants and discourage any crowds of spectators. This is hard as these events have been all about the cheering and high fives common in sports.
I mentioned we had the ability to provide live mesh video (learned from the Hennepin County Sheriff volunteer team). He said he would clear his calendar to meet with me on video. The wanted a camera at the finish line and another camera on a lake a mile or so away. And some more cameras here and there. And a live voice-over from their announcer. And a trailer for their announcer – the nice booth they had was for the timing person only these days. The word “sponsors” was used- so we selected our Part 15 “Medical Command” backbone and radio collection.
Peter, KD8GBL suggested we use Open Broadcast Studio, which lets you pick video sources and stream to YouTube. I handed over a motley selection of $39 IP fixed cameras which were on Goodwill camera tripods with 10AH mail order sealed batteries. The ones with ONVIF protocol and a built in web IP seemed best. Each trailer has a Pan Tilt Zoom IP camera on mesh already. The idea was we would borrow a line level audio feed from the PA mixer and we bought a cheap wireless microphone kit if not. (Beware of any music – YouTube will flag copyright violations and complain).
We only had one camping trailer- 17’ but not ideal for the task and heavy to tow across the snow to the booth. We needed at least two shelters. Doug, N0NAS suggested the use of portable ice fishing tents- $99 at Fleet Farm and about five by five feet – room for a 48 inch plastic table and chair.
We divided the task into two teams. The most critical job was the finish line. I told my boss “We are not CBS Sports” but would do our best. One tower trailer in the parking lot would provide mesh and we had access to AC power and Wi-Fi. The trailer I picked also had an FM repeater.
The second team was at the lake and had no fixed facilities so brought a tower trailer with power, mesh and internet. They had a collection of cameras also. The idea was to have all the video signals on mesh. The Pre-Loppet was a test for the larger four day event so we mapped out but did not test the mesh path back to the finish line and our video uplink tent.
On race day it all went pretty well. The ice fishing tents were like five umbrellas sewn other and were complex to set up. We had only enough #12 extension cords for one run to one outlet, so were worried the electric heaters we brought (1500W) would blow the circuit breaker. Old welcome mats were good for covering extension cords on the snow. OBS was suddenly unhappy with the tested tripod cameras but liked the tower camera in the parking lot. Later on OBS changed its mind and liked the tripod cameras and refused the tower one.
We learned the repeater covered the park but there was no mesh path. So that needs work. The event seemed happy and even created a new volunteer department for us- video and communications. There were no medical aid stations in the plans at all. I met with Executive Director- I hoped Ham Radio could develop the same level of relationship with the large ski organizations we have with marathons- which is really quite magical.
Postscript (1/30-31) The first weekend of the actual Winter Festival went very well. The event got a new donated sound proof announcer trailer. It was converted from a cargo trailer and was very useful and good. One of our laptops with OBS was happy with just one camera. So we brought our ONB trailer but could not use that ONVIF feed on-air. The towing flag flapped in the video field of view. We got a $10 Menards 350W heater which helped. Our little tents need floors (Harbor Freight moving blankets) to reduce the chill. The entire second weekend was cancelled due to cold.
ONB providing Part 15 mesh, and video and was ready to utilize Wi-Fi as WAN from the main building but we had it from the timing booth which was easy.
Our two tents for the Pre-Loppet
PSP trailer and the Wirth Lake crew.