Vail Resorts cranked up their well-oiled PR machine to help them “launch”, well, start promoting  an interesting social media product that they’re calling EpicMix. On first impression it sounds like it will be the on-slope version of FourSquare or Gowalla, this is particularly true when watching the Epic Mix promo video with it’s depiction of a trail map showing exactly where your friend are and where you’ve been:

Digging a little deeper, VR reveals that they’ve done some serious work in bringing their RFID pass scanning technology to the real-time web as a way to bypass some of the issues that Ski Resort have with LBS (Location Based Service). Namely:

  • The lack of consistent cell service
  • The difficulty of using mobile device GPSs
  • The trouble of battery drain with electronic devices in cold weather.
  • The fact that only a certain number of consumer will have smart phones with GPS technology with them.

Of course, RFID cards have been in use for Track Your Turn type services by many resorts for quite some time now, see:

What Vail has done is make their database accessible in a more real-time environment via web and mobile interfaces along with giving users the ability to share their “on-mountain” information very readily to social networks. They’ve also taken the “gaming” component of the major Geo-location services and added “several hundred” badges to be collected by users.

A big component that isn’t available via RFID, or at least how Vail appears to have setup their system is knowing exactly what run a customer has traversed, at what speed and if they’ve gotten lost and are stuck on the mountain – unless of course the customer is stuck at the base of a lift, because that, at least from the sound of it, it the only place that a customer is physically scanned. Once a customer is scanned at the base of a particular lift, it’s simple to calculate that they’ll reach top of that lift and then have X number of options to ski or ride to any other lift – of course you could ride to the base and off the mountain, but unless you make sure to check in somewhere or walk off through some sort of scanner, the system will have to assume that you wound up at the same base that you originally started at. Just a bit of conjecture, but it does show some of the limitations of just using RFID.

I imagine that VR could face some of the challenges that many LBS companies are working through, which is the fact that many people, probably a lot of the higher worth folks that spend the most money on ski vacations, don’t like sharing their location. Perhaps they’ll enjoy tracking their vertical on their own, but I do wonder if this app can move past the “geek love” stage and into a place where it’s able to demonstrably show ROI? That said, I’m a “geek” and very happy to see a large resort operator with resources like VR’s making a strong commitment to developing socially centric and unique to ski resort applications – kudos!