If you nerded out on the EpicMix app while skiing or snowboarding at the Vail Resorts last season and love to boast on Facebook about just how sick your "sick days" are by posting photos and status updates from the mountain, then EpicMix 2.0 is just for you, adding EpicMix Photo and new social media sharing tools into the... uh... epic mix. Yesterday, Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz unveiled the EpicMix 2.0 social media app and dropped details about $80 to $95 million in other improvement projects at Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge here in Colorado (Breck's 50th anniversary season begins on 11/11/11, so get ready to party), plus new developments at Heavenly in California and $30 million in capital improvements at Shaun White's new home mountain, Northstar-at-Tahoe.
The popular EpicMix app, first introduced last year, will continue to use radio frequency chips embedded in each season pass and -- new this year -- daily lift tickets (they'll now be called Epic Day passes) to tally up days on the mountain and vertical feet skied and award virtual pins for on-mountain achievements like being there on opening day or covering a lot of ground. The big news yesterday was that Vail Resorts has let its contract with SharpShooter Imaging run out and is replacing them with a small army of its own professional photographers on each mountain, so that it can incorporate professional photos into the EpicMix experience.
Rather than hard-selling visitors on buying those images, they'll be giving away low-res versions of the photos in the hope that they'll be shared on social networks, through the EpicMix app and otherwise. The app also incorporates visitors' own mobile phone camera shots and lets visitors build shareable albums and "snapshot" pages documenting their day, week, or season.
"Photo sharing is the number-one fastest-growing and biggest area within social media -- 100 million photos are uploaded every day on Facebook," Katz said, addressing a group of season passholders and media yesterday at the Seawell Grand Ballroom at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. "Capture. Connect. Share. is the tagline we use for EpicMix, but when somebody asks, 'How do you capture your experience?' what you really think about is a photo. That's really the essence of how people capture their time away on vacation. We wanted to rethink the entire vacation photo business and bring that business into the 21st century."
In a press conference following yesterday's event, Katz made the point even more clearly: "The real holy grail of social media is getting your fans to talk to their friends about what they're doing," Katz said. "The real success of EpicMix last year was that we had something like 290,000 posts on Facebook of people sharing their sharing their pins, vertical feet and points. Those are very positive posts -- you're not going to make those posts unless you're having a good time. And our view is that we can geometrically move that number forward by including photos. If we've taken a great professional photo of you and your kids and you're going to post that on Facebook, that's basically you saying, to all of your friends, 'I'm having a great time here.'"
Though it's complicated to claim a direct cost-benefit correlation, so far Vail's social media gamble appears to be paying off: "We saw a four percent increase overall across all six of our resorts, and Vail in particular grew 9 percent to 1,750,000, making it the most-visited mountain, once again, in the United States," Katz said. "It was truly an epic year, and we're not resting on our laurels."
Indeed: Other improvements to watch for this season include a new high-speed quad chairlift in the Rose Bowl at Beaver Creek, a new mid-mountain restaurant at Vail, a year of 50th anniversary celebrations at Breckenridge and expanded Kidtopia family programming at Keystone.
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For the best deal on Epic passes and other season pass packages for the Vail Resorts, stop by the Labor Day Ski Rex sale this weekend at Colorado Ski & Golf, where adult Epic passes come with a $50 store voucher to spend on new gear.