Vail Resorts touts new technology | SummitDaily.com

Vail Resorts touts new technology

LAUREN GLENDENNING
vail daily

Photo: Fast Company

DENVER – How does a ski resort company incorporate state-of-the-art technology without disrupting a business that revolves around the natural world and environment?

They do it seamlessly, so the guests barely even notice.

Vail Resorts chief executive officer Rob Katz points to the company’s history, long before he took over, as a leader in implementing technology that skiers and snowboarders can use as easily as they ride a gondola.

Remember when Vail Resorts first linked credit cards to its season passes, so resort guests wouldn’t have to carry a wallet around the mountain all day? It’s been more than 20 years since that technology came into play, Katz said.

Fast-forward to the new millennium of Internet-obsessed technologies and the current social-media phenomenon, and Vail Resorts is doing it again.

The company announced its new EpicMix program Monday in New York, revealing a technology that skiers and snowboarders won’t even notice, Katz said.

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“(Technology) has to be seamless, hassle-free, or it’s very difficult to get people to use it,” Katz said after a media luncheon in Denver Wednesday.

EpicMix is a new online and digital application that will allow radio frequency scanners installed at all of the company’s 89 chairlifts to read the radio frequency chips already installed in season and peak passes. The scans will enter data to an online personal account that would track how many vertical feet traveled, which ski lifts were ridden and it includes capabilities to share the information with others via Facebook or Twitter.

The radio frequency chip has already been in season and peak passes for three seasons, and now the company has found a way to enhance it in exactly the way it wants to use technology – without guests having to change a thing about the way they ski or ride.

“We’ve been using technology to improve the experience, but we’re making sure that in no way it interferes with the experience,” Katz said.

The company hasn’t released the cost associated with the new technology, but has revealed that it spent $75 million to $85 million this summer alone on improving the experience for guests at all five resorts. The improvements include the new Chair 5 at Vail, new summer and winter mountain coaster at Breckenridge and an expanded tubing hill at Vail’s Adventure Ridge, among other projects.

Katz said the economic downturn is part of reality, and that the economy will always go up and down. Vail Resorts, however, has to always do what it can to build loyalty with its guests, he said.

Investing in resort improvements is one of the best ways to build that loyalty, he said.

“You have to continue to show you’ll improve the experience,” Katz said. “Being a leader in that effort is critical.”

EpicMix is an example of improving the experience, but more importantly it’s about adapting to the experience that people want to have. In some ways similar to Apple’s announcement this week of the “Ping” enhancement to iTunes – which lets users follow friends’ music – EpicMix allows skiers and boarders to share their experience with friends electronically. The new generation of active skiers and snowboarders – Generation Y and the Millenials – are using social-media networks more than ever, and Vail Resorts wants to capture their attention while they’re skiing or riding.

EpicMix’s capabilities to link to social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are going to revolutionize the ski industry, Katz said. He’s already hearing so much buzz over the new program since Monday’s announcement.

“We’ve had a massive reaction online to this announcement,” Katz said. “We feel like we’ve hit on something that could be quite significant for travel (industry), but certainly for the ski industry.”

The technology isn’t about pushing people to do something they don’t want to do, it’s about giving people tools to better explore the mountains, Katz said.

“You’re not going to notice anything different,” Katz said.