Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Lake Tahoe's Heavenly Mountain are lighting up the tech blogs this week with news of their new EpicMix social media app, which tracks guests' activities and achievements throughout the season -- mountains visited, days on the mountain, powder days, lift rides per day, vertical feet skied, etc. -- using passive radio frequency-enabled chips in lift tickets and season passes.
Skiers and snowboarders will collect virtual "pins" celebrating their accomplishments as they go, and will be able to chart their achievements against those of their friends via Facebook and Twitter.
Pins can be earned for things like showing up on opening day, riding three lifts after dark at Keystone (the Nightrider pin), riding the new High Noon Express lift five times (the High Five, obviously), and skiing with one ski in California and the other in Nevada at Heavenly (the Stateline pin), with unannounced surprise pins thrown in the mix.
"For some people, the thought of a digital pin on a computer having any meaning sounds ridiculous, but the fact is that these kinds of games are very popular," says Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz, alluding to inexplicably popular online games like Farmville. "And what we've realized is that what people want is recognition, and they want to be able to show others what their accomplishments are. We've also added the ability to create custom EpicMix leader boards, so you can track your accomplishments versus your friends."
EpicMix is no Farmville, Katz assures me. "The game is on the mountain. The experience is on the mountain, and it's real. It's not just about being online, it's about enhancing your mountain experience and shouting it to your friends."Vail began experimenting with RF-enabled chips in its season passes and lift tickets three years ago, and now has radio frequency scanners installed at each of its 89 lifts across all five mountain resorts. Because the technology is passive, guests won't see any change in their experience on the mountain until they log in to EpicMix.com, where they'll be able to view all of their automatically tracked activities and will have an opportunity to opt-in for full integration with their Facebook and/or Twitter accounts. EpicMix will also be available as a mobile app.
"We've allowed people to see which of their Facebook friends is on the mountain in that moment, and communicate just with those people, using the mobile app on their iPhone or Android-enabled cell phone," Katz says. "For the Front Range skier especially, the ability to see which of your friends is on the mountain and send easy messages is going to be huge, because it really takes what is otherwise a hassle and makes it easy to meet up, compare notes about lift lines and snow conditions, and find each other."
Katz made a calculated decision to announce EpicMix to the tech blogs in New York on Monday, waiting until a press conference yesterday in Denver to chat it up with local media and ski and snowboard magazines. Why?
"We think this has broader applications and interest beyond the ski industry, and we wanted to generate some buzz for it online, partly to prove the point: We've had a massive reaction to this announcement online and an unbelievable amount of commentary about it on Twitter and on the blogs. It's way beyond anything we could have expected, which, in a way, is exactly what we're talking about. The potential is huge, and we do feel like we've hit on something that could be quite significant.
"We're totally jazzed about what it means for our resorts and what it means to buy a season pass to our resorts or a lift ticket to come visit us, but it's also about what it means for our industry. We have a unique opportunity to connect the incredible energy of what happens on the mountain with our guests' creative expression and social networks online."
Intrigued? Spring prices on the Colorado Pass and Epic Passes for Vail Resorts are still available through this weekend at ColoradoPass.com and at the Ski Rex sale this weekend at Colorado Ski & Golf in Aurora, 2650 South Havana Street.