Big Brother, and Your Bros, Are Watching

Cold Front
Cold Front, Feb 2005

Tired of relying on crackling two-way radios and shoddy cell phone reception to plan that on-mountain rendezvous? The people at Steamboat feel your pain, and this season they aim to alleviate it with their $1.4 million MountainWatch system.

The first ski-resort device of its kind, Steamboat MountainWatch works like your standard-issue radio-frequency house-arrest contraption. But rather than wearing a good old ankle bracelet - and who among us doesn't hate that feeling? - this one goes on your wrist. Better yet, instead of sending a signal to a roomful of pasty Feds, MountainWatch employs 56 "proximity readers" - radio receivers scattered across the mountain. The whereabouts of up to 15,000 users per day are then displayed in six kiosks (near lodges, chairlifts, etc). Assuming you and your crew are wearing group-coded bracelets ($25 for a seven-day rental of four), you can always keep track of each other.

Andy Wirth, Steamboat's VP of marketing, says MountainWatch is particularly practical for the resort's family-heavy clientele. "Parents will be able to see constantly where their kids are all day," he explains. "It's the future of skiing at Steamboat." Which is great, as long as you're not wearing a bracelet while, say, cavorting in the woods with your brother's fiancàƒ©e To that end, says Tomis Kaplan, philosophy professor at Northern Illinois University, MountainWatch is eerily reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984. "This scenario is creepy," he jokes. "I might say more, but I don't know you from a member of the Thought Police."