A few years ago, Vail Resorts installed radio frequency chips in their season passes and Peaks lift tickets, and provided lifties with scanners that detected those chips—no fumbling for your pass. Now, the company has announced another use for those RFID chips in their passes: Epic Mix, which provides a mobile and online segment to supplement your skiing experience. RF readers at all lifts will detect your pass as you ski by, and automatically log your vertical feet, days, and resorts skied (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly) online. You can compare your totals with friends and family, and earn "pins" when you complete certain activities- skiing 50,000 vertical feet, or being the first scanned on a powder day. This digital combination of social, mobile, location-based gaming, and RFID technology is the first of its kind, even beyond the ski industry. We chatted with Vail Resorts' Interactive Director Mike Slone to find out more.
Where did you see an opportunity to build something like this?
Without the initial vision and investment in RF (radio frequency) several years ago, this project probably wouldn’t have been possible. I think Rob Katz (CEO) and Robert Urwiler (CIO) were familiar with personal performance devices and apps such as Nike+ and thought there could be some application in skiing.
Then, with the emergence over the last year of geolocation check-in’s apps such as Foursquare and Gowalla, the door was open to some creative thinking on how to connect RF with social media.
Without RF, passive geolocation check-in’s wouldn’t have been possible- we are the first app to be able to accomplish geolocation check-in’s without a user having to do anything other than wear a pass and ski. No mobile phones or cell signals are needed for a user to allow us to capture their day on the mountain.
Why do social and geo-location gaming apps make sense for the ski industry?
Social elements have always been a natural part of any mountain experience. You ski all day, grab a beer, and chat about the day with your buddies. Mix is a 21st century adaptation of “apres ski” allowing users to share those same experiences digitally with their friends and family on Facebook and twitter. The only difference is that Mix keeps the tall tales in check and your friends can be at a different resort.
How is this a response to emerging trends in the digital space?
The ski industry is constantly evolving (sometimes too slowly) and the kids today that are hitting our mountains have grown up with shaped skis, halfpipes, iPods, Xboxes, email and the Internet. Their expectations for what a fun, on-mountain experience should be are a little different than when I first started skiing with 200cm Rossi’s, a Commodore64, PacMan, mixed tape playing walkmans, and a phone with rotary dial. Today’s skiers are also constantly connected through texting and other digital social channels. Mix was created in part with the Gen Y and Millennials in mind in an attempt to enhance their overall mountain experience that is more inline with their current digitally connected lifestyles.
What are people saying about it?
The response regarding Mix has been amazing. In the 3 days since we announced Mix, we’ve had stories appear on Wired, Mashable, Fast Company, CBS, Wall Street Journal, Cnet, PC Mag, and many others, as well as several thousand tweets and mentions on Facebook. Many have noted that Mix is potentially a ground-breaking product that will advance the future of geolocation, performance, and social apps. We couldn’t be more pleased with the response.
As a digitial leader, skier, and father, what’s the most exciting part of Mix?
For me, it’s seeing an idea come to life. Mix truly is a huge team effort that goes well beyond Marketing and IT. It’s a company-wide project and that makes the launch of Mix very special. Sometimes I forget that I will also get to use the product, so I can’t wait for opening day at Keystone to start capturing my own mountain experiences and unlocking some fun pins. It isn’t often that you can work on a project that combines some of the things you love the most- skiing, family & friends, social media, and technology.
Rob Katz- Chairman and CEO, Robert Urwiler and Heidi Kercher-Pratt discuss EpicMIX.