Social media on the mountain | SierraSun.com

Social media on the mountain

Jason Shueh

The latest buzz coming from Tahoe ski resorts may not be at the resorts at all. It may be coming from your cell phone.

Todayand#8217;s modern tech is plowing its way into the ski industry via Facebook, Twitter and skier tracking apps on smartphones. The turn in technology could spell a revolution for the traditional skiing experience, both for skiers and snowboarders and resorts across the nation.

Take Vail Resorts latest app, EpicMix, the program released in the 2010-and#8217;11 winter season at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail and Heavenly resorts, allows instantaneous tracking of skier stats including total vertical feet skied, lifts used, total days skied, resorts visited within the Vail Resorts chain and#8212; all while automatically feeding the information directly to a userand#8217;s EpicMix profile online, as well as Facebook and Twitter if linked to the EpicMix profile.

Mike Slone, the companyand#8217;s interactive director, said though the program is still in its infancy, it has garnered huge success by users who enjoy the bragging rights through the online comparisons with friends, and the digital trophies they receive for their skiing accomplishments.

Last season, Vail reported nearly 100,000 guests activated EpicMix accounts at the aforementioned 5 resorts (the company purchased Northstar-at-Tahoe after the app was introduced), generating more than 35 million social impressions and stacking up more than 55 billion vertical feet of skiing.

and#8220;We wanted to create something that would enhance the overall skier experience without intruding in it,and#8221; Slone said.

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A key component to the appand#8217;s unobtrusive success is the surprising kicker that users donand#8217;t even need to turn their cell phones on to participate and#8212; the majority of all lift tickets and season passes are able to communicate skier locations through Radio Frequency.

and#8220;Weand#8217;re tracking where people go on the mountain, at least what lifts theyand#8217;re using,and#8221; Slone said.

Slone said Vail intends to release EpicMix at Northstar for the 2011-and#8217;12 season and incorporate resort photography using Radio Frequency technology as a way for photographers to automatically upload free low-resolution images to skiersand#8217; accounts, with hi-resolution images for sale online.

Likely hoping to capitalize on Facebook trends, the social media giant estimates more than 250 million photos are uploaded each day to its site, according to Vail, with photo sharing one of its most popular features.

and#8220;Using this RF technology, EpicMix photographers will seamlessly deliver an image to everyone in a group picture and kidsand#8217; photos will be sent to their parentand#8217;s secure account,and#8221; according to Vail.

Mutually beneficial

The benefits to EpicMix are spread to users in the form of fun stats, photos and easy access to the mountain and#8212; RF technology also used for scanning lift tickets through ski clothing, meaning faster lift lines. However, there is also a financial benefit to the resort with all of the valuable user data.

If skiers take part in EpicMix, Vail will know who users ski with, their favorite runs, favorite resorts, favorite times to ski and if accounts are linked to Facebook or Twitter. Under a marketing microscope, this means the data could be turned to dollars through personalized offers, packages and targeted mountain improvements.

Slone said Vail will be using the data to assess its skiing operation similar to other resort companies; however, for those fearing release of too much personal information, there are privacy settings within EpicMix to keep personal data secure from other users or to have the resort clip out the RF chip within a season pass (the downside to this being manual scans each time a skier uses a lift).

and#8220;Privacy is of utmost importance to us,and#8221; said Slone. and#8220;If you donand#8217;t want to be tracked you donand#8217;t have to be.and#8221;

Ultimately, Slone said the app translates to turning the ski experience into an inherently social experience more so than it ever has been.

As an example Slone said heand#8217;s personally overheard lunch conversations stemming from the programand#8217;s skiing stats, seen Facebook pageand#8217;s using EpicMixand#8217;s trophy pins as notable accomplishments, and users trying to visit more runs and more resorts to earn their digital pins.

and#8220;EpicMix has really created a lot of cool stories,and#8221; said Slone.

One of his fondest recollections of just how influential the app has been is a conversation he had with an 83-year-old man who said when he began to use the app, he began skiing more and riding in places he never thought to ride. Others have said they began visiting more resorts they never considered before despite years of skiing.

Ski resorts are now neck deep in social media programs like Facebook and Twitter, using them not only to spread the word but also to generate discussions and interact.

Rachael Woods, marketing director at Alpine Meadows and Homewood, said her resorts has been using Facebook for the past six years with startling results, their pages exploding with fan-driven conversations, resort contests, latest news and#8212; and, perhaps the best telling of success and#8212; more than 10,600 and#8220;likesand#8221; as of August.

and#8220;Facebook is a really quick and convenient way to interact with people who have a vested interest in the mountain, and itand#8217;s a lot of fun,and#8221; said Woods.

More than simply a vehicle to distribute information, Alpine Meadows has been using Facebook to talk about everything from a tasty pizza lunch, gathering feedback on potential promotional contests to posting interesting video footage of snowboarding feats and#8212; really, anything of note or interesting.

During Alpineand#8217;s Fourth of July holiday, the resort held a July Fan Quest Challenge, a uniquely Facebook-oriented contest in which the resort challenged skiers to sign up as an Alpine Facebook fan in return for discounts on lift tickets and#8212; every 1,000 new fans equaled a $3 reduction in pre-sale lift tickets.

The contest was a smashing success both for skiers and the resort.

and#8220;Skiing and snowboarding I think are inherently social and I think Facebook is a fun and informative,and#8221; Woods said.