Futuristic technology being used in Vail Resorts’ war on lift lines | SierraSun.com

Futuristic technology being used in Vail Resorts’ war on lift lines

John LaConte
jlaconte@vaildaily.com

Analyzing the EpicMix Time data collected last winter from the app on lifts at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Park City, lift line wait times were greater than five minutes only six percent of the time overall, and only eight percent of the time during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods.

It seems like there’s never a lift line at Chair 10. But every once and awhile you’ll ski down Highline or Blue Ox and find there is indeed a wait to board the lift. Sometimes the reason is obvious, but other times it’s a complete mystery. Could the date and time provide the answer?

With an eye toward the future and the modern practices of data collection we’re now able to obtain, Vail Resorts this year will unveil EpicMix Time Insights, a mobile and desktop app which will allow you to view lift line wait times for each day of the 2016-17 winter season. Daily snowfall totals will also be among the Insights, allowing you to view how snowfall, holidays and the weekend vs. weekday dynamic affects each part of the mountain when it comes to traffic. It’s the next step in a process that began in the 2015-16 winter season, when the EpicMix Time app started providing lift wait time data in real time.

The system works by analyzing signals emitted by guests’ mobile devices as they cue up for a lift, said Robert Urwiler, chief information officer for Vail Resorts.

“Sensors were installed around strategic points around each lift loading area that gather anonymous device probe data and transmit them to a cloud-based database for analytics,” Urwiler said.

On a mountain as big as Vail, guests are frequently finding themselves miles away from, say, an upcoming dinner reservation. In a comic juxtaposition, often times their servers are also out there on the slopes, looking for the fastest route to get down the mountain, make it to work on time and not get their passes pulled in the process.

This year, cross examining information will be interesting. Five or 10 years from now, it could prove to be downright vital when it comes to mapping your route around Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Park City.

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“(EpicMix Time Insights) is of significant benefit to our guests who are looking to find the best time to start their day, break for lunch, opt for a different chairlift with a shorter line or even to select the ideal vacation dates,” Urwiler said.

MOTORING THE MOUNTAIN

On a mountain as big as Vail, guests are frequently finding themselves miles away from, say, an upcoming dinner reservation. In a comic juxtaposition, often times their servers are also out there on the slopes, looking for the fastest route to get down the mountain, make it to work on time and not get their passes pulled in the process.

Aaron Nagel, Marketing Manager for EpicMix and bona fide tech guy, is more than a little excited about how EpicMix Time Insights can help those skiers and snowboarders better meet their schedules. The aim is to provide services such as those now used by motorists on their daily commutes.

“(Insights will be) very similar to how Google Maps tracks your time home and how (that service) can tell you there’s a better route,” Nagel said.

NEW FRONT IN THE FIGHT

The big picture for Vail Resorts, however, is about much more than helping the bus boy make it into work on time. The war the company has waged on lift lines is now being fought on multiple fronts, with hardware and software both being used as important weapons.

Along the hardware lines, the tactic is obvious — in the last five years the company has upgraded 17 lifts across its western destination mountain resorts. The slow moving, fixed-grip lift is now a fossil at Vail, as every chair on the mountain now detaches onto a fast moving cable for maximum efficiency.

The software front is a more behind-the-scenes battle, however, and the company is hoping for a technological super soldier of sorts with EpicMix Time Insights.

“EpicMix Time data we collect helps us to identify additional pinch points, and where to invest next,” Urwiler said.

Guests can access Insights on their desktop or mobile device at http://www.time.epicmix.com. To learn more about EpicMix or the EpicMix Time app, visit http://www.epicmix.com.