Are ski destinations and operators leading a social and tech wave in travel?

Both North American and European ski destinations are entering the peak period for 2014, as millions of beginners, experts – and those somewhere in middle – head to the slopes.

The classic ski trip is, some might argue, one of the most “experiential” of travel types available – stunning views, demanding, rewarding, adrenalin-fuelled, fun, and full of opportunities to meet new people or socialise with friends and family.

As a result, those unfortunate not to be heading to the Rockies or Alps are bombarded with countless images and videos shared on social networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and, especially, Pinterest and Instagram.

A great experience, inevitably, triggers a need to share (indeed, show off) in this social media-led age.

Furthermore, technology such as RFID is used extensively in many resorts to manage lift access and ensure skiers get up their various green or black slopes as quickly as possible.

But given this widespread use of fairly cutting edge technology, and a desire by travellers to record and share their experiences, some might argue that resorts and the operators that bus in guests in the droves are actually not making the most of the opportunity.

One answer could be: “Probably not as much as they should, if at all.”

So why not?

The folks at EpicMix seem to have taken the idea to the extreme (to use some skiing lingo). The service, which is heavily integrated into the Vail resort in North America, allows users to track their runs down slopes using the RFID technology in their ski passes.

They can then share their routes, capture pictures and images and share across multiple networks.

EpicMix has even created a “leaderboard” so users can mark their activities and compare their scores (speed, duration, etc) against fellow travellers in the resort. Skiing and snowboarding is, after all, a reasonably hedonistic pastime and people naturally want to see how they rank against others.

This type of service is, in some respects, in isolation – ski operators in Europe and elsewhere, as well as the resorts in which they operate, seem to limit their social and technological prowess to Facebook pages and the dreaded QR codes.

On the one hand, operators should (and could quite easily) actively encourage their guests to share the hell out of their experiences – but, generally, do not.

Smart marketers should realise that such social activity would be great branding and the content is, well, inspirational. Some operators, such as the TUI Travel-owned Crystal Ski, are kind of there but could clearly do more.

The same could be said for the destinations themselves – reminding visitors throughout a resort, on lifts, at the top of mountains, to make sure they snap a selfie, record a Vine, etc. And, crucially, share it on the resort’s Facebook page.

So why haven’t more resorts and operators thrown themselves head first into an EpicMix-type system?

Speaking to us last year, Ron Schneidermann, a co-founder and chief marketing officer of North American ski services provider Liftopia, said many resorts in his region have been “pretty progressive” with embracing content sharing on social networks.

(Maybe it’s a US-Canada thing)

But he argues that EpicMix-type services are difficult to be successful en masse in ski resorts.

“Most resorts are independent entities and not part of a broader network, and most do under 300,000 visits a year during a very compressed timeframe.”

What about encouraging resorts or hotels to build mobile application to at least facilitate social sharing, which could also lead to hi-tech developments further down the line?

“We consistently advise them to stay away from the trap of building an app or any other sort of proprietary social network. We’d say the same to an independent hotel or activity provider, anyone that doesn’t have the breadth and depth of a one-to-many relationship.

“The return simply isn’t there. It’s incredibly expensive and labor intensive to produce an app of quality, and the ability to leverage the app to capture new customers from a fixed customer base that’s geographically sensitive is highly unlikely.”

So, in reality, there is a bit of dilemma for operators and resorts to perhaps embrace technology and ultra-social tools similar to the EpicMix experience.

Vail, perhaps inevitably due to its high-end position in the skiing ecosystem, may remain the leader for some time in this area – with other resorts lagging behind due to a combination of infrastructure issues, costs and enthusiasm.

Still, many would concede that there is plenty the operators could do to take advantage of the experiential elements of the ski trip beyond just asking customers to like a Facebook page.

NB: Skiing image via Shutterstock.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. Mike Slone

    When we were building EpicMix we worked with ODIN Technologies for the on mountain software, but the guy (Patrick Sweeney) behind ODIN started a new company, dwinQ that is doing some great projects with RFID and social media. Any resort considering an RFID project, should consult with him (and me). I would love to work on a next gen EpicMix for another resort or resorts. As Bruce said, there is still a lot more EpicMix could be doing and I think there are a lot more opportunities to make this happen in Europe than the USA.

    • Adam Roderick

      EpicMix got a lot of things right. Extend the experience beyond the short time window the customer is on mountain. Make an intangible service or product more tangible. Combine and record the digital AND physical experiences so you can analyze the full customer experience.

      Resorts, theme parks, conferences, and cruises all give opportunity to create an infrastructure that combines physical and digital data on the customer. All of that data gives us the ability to design a personalized customer experience that leads to higher loyalty and more effective marketing.

      This shouldn’t be an RFID conversation, RFID is just one way to gather physical data. @kevinlukemay you nailed it, laying down an entire RFID infrastructure is too expensive for any single-resort operator. But even for those who already have that infrastructure, organizing the data and creating a unique data-driven experience for the customer is no small feat either.

      The ones that can find a financially feasible way to do it will certainly stand out, as Vail Resorts demonstrates.

  2. Bruce Rosard

    Yes – in Europe, RFID is everywhere, sorry about using my North American centro view on this. But in Europe, is the other issue that there are very few resorts actually owned by one company? So would it be the Tourism Offices for the resort that would have to take this on? I know Vail spends 6 figures per year to keep EpicMix going (right Mike?), would European tourism offices consider a similar investment?

    And regarding US resorts that use RFID – I wasn’t aware and stand corrected if that’s the case, thanks for the update.

    • Mike Slone

      Bruce, many of the resorts have consolidated passes that work across all of the different lift owners- The Dolomiti Super Ski Pass is the perfect example. I would think that Switzerland (Verbier/Zermatt) would be a another good group to do something similar. If it was me, I would get them to focus on photo/video experiences, not necessarily mountain tracking or badges.

      Regarding Vail, you have to keep in mind that EpicMix creates buzz that turns into dollars and they produce revenue from EpicMix via photo and I am sure in the future other products tied to it.

      Resorts shouldn’t see something like EpicMix as drain on the budget and instead a tool to increase engagement, loyalty, and even revenue.

  3. Mike Slone

    Bruce, I would counter your argument slightly. I would say there are just as many resorts with RFID than not. Most resorts just don’t use it to do anything other than get people onto lifts- Aspen is a USA example. In Europe RFID is almost everywhere that I have skied, in fact the Dolomiti Super Ski Pass is already perfect for something like EpicMix- they have RFID gates at every single lift.

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @mike – yup… L’Alpe D’Huez the same… RFID everywhere. Just under-used.

  4. Bruce Rosard

    Great article Kevin, thanks for covering this topic. EpicMix is a beautiful thing because you ski at a Vail Resort and it just works. Nothing to download, no buttons to push, it’s great. The potential is there to do so much more and Vail is certainly ahead of the pack by miles. But, @gregabbott – other ski resorts won’t be jumping in soon because they have to put RFID on every lift and that is too expensive. An alternative approach is to work with a provider like AlpineReplay (the best in the market). AlpineReplay offers just about everything that EpicMix does and a lot more. Things like speed and air time are tracked (not in EpicMix), integration with Instagram and a really slick video overlay. What’s also nice about AlpineReplay from the skiers’ perspective is they can take it to any mountain in the world and use it, it isn’t tied to any one resort.

    But that brings me to my next point – whereas AlpineReplay is great for consumers, EpicMix is much better for the resorts – it builds brand and provides 100s of millions of social impressions. Where else can an EpicMix type experience be used where the cost of RFID won’t scare away the potential development? What about cruise ships? What about amusement parks? What about an entire island? The functionality would be different of course, but imagine an integrated system where your CRM and POS is tied to each customer and their activities. Photos and videos are integrated, everything is available to post on social (with permission), there is a lot that can be done with this type of technology. Vail is showing the ski industry the way with EpicMix and doing a great job. Can the ski industry actually be a leader for a change and show others in the travel industry the way?

  5. Greg Abbott

    Seems an opportunity for epicmix to license the tech to resorts lacking sophistication in exchange for gathering the underlying user data. perhaps brands would be keen to target /segment to various categories of skiers be it the the snowplower like me or powder kings like @kevinlukemay 🙂

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @greg – haha, I’ve only been once (last year) and didn’t really make it off the green slopes, sadly 🙁

  6. Richard Smith

    Interesting article Kevin. Whilst it’s true that the ski resorts in some sense led the way with RFID and social integration, much of this was because they already had much of the ‘expensive’ technical infrastructure in place. However over the last couple of years, as prices have dropped and social technology has improved, we’ve been deploying solutions like this through our platform at places as diverse as IT Conferences, hair salons and even the PS4 launch events.

    The simple fact is that this technology is now within reach of even the most stringent budgets. Perhaps we should be talking to these independent resorts 😉

  7. Mike Slone

    I would add to this story by saying that most resorts, whether they have money or not, don’t have CEO’s or CIO’s that believe strongly that digital innovation can enhance the ski and mountain experience. In fact, most resorts, don’t even have CEO’s that use social media or apps, much less understand it. Rob Katz and Robert Urwilier at Vail Resorts have emersed themselves in social and digital applications from the beginning (and actively use them), thus they understand the power and potential they can have. Without 100% buy in from the top down, most resorts will only continue to dabble in social/digital and meaningful digital experiences that are woven into the overall mountain/ski experience will not be possible.

    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @mike – certainly getting the “buy-in” (sorry, dreaded management lingo bingo word!) from the top of an organisation would help enormously.

  8. Matt Zito

    The Vail Resorts boys are the smartest players in the game in the ski travel space. I operated an OTA for 15 years in the ski travel market and Vail Resorts was always a step ahead of everyone else. In agreement with Ron, most ski resorts are independent entities run by families. These resorts lack the resources “cash” to invest in digital technologies like Vail’s EpicMix.

    Matt Zito

  9. Valentin Dombrovsky

    Thank you for the article, Kevin.
    Link on EpicMix leads to 404 page on their website.


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