Vail Techs Up Its Mountain With iPhone Apps And Radio Towers

If there's one thing I've learned covering the sports and tech industries, it's that athletes (or at least those marketing at athletes) are as nerdy deep down as your average IT guy. While sports like skiing should be fun on their own, there are all kinds of techy gadgets like cell phone gloves and GPS trackers that can infuse the average ski vacation with an unhealthy dose of geekiness.


This season you're going to see a whole lot more cell-phone-obsessed rubes out in the Back Bowls,  because Vail has announced that it will launch what it calls EpicMix. Playing off its Epic Pass (which was actually a positive addition to the Vail experience), EpicMix is a new system that will utilize smartphones like the iPhone and Android handsets toward on-mountain stat calculation and communication.

Vail intends to add 89 radio towers on its lifts for the 2010/11 season, which will function with an RF chip in its lift tickets and season passes.  The system will keep track of stats like runs skied, vertical feet and ski days. The 89 towers will be installed across Vail's five resorts: Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek in Colorado and Heavenly in the Lake Tahoe region. 

So far, not bad. But it then takes a turn for the ultra-dorky. Via an iPhone or Android application, users can access their RF-tracked skiing information and share their stats and accomplishments via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Vail will award special edition pins to users with particularly accomplished profiles.

EpicMix users will also be able to track when their friends are skiing (at a Vail Resort) and will be able to communicate with other EpicMix users on the mountain.  Finally, the mobile application will provide resort info like trail and grooming status, snow and weather reports, traffic and resort news.

Other third-party equipment and applications like Slope Tracker provide similar ski day stat tracking, but so far as I know, this is the first time a resort has introduced its own system. 

On the one hand, I respect what Vail is trying to do by integrating the ever-popular social media with its ski experience. And this application could be useful on a more practical level for tracking down members of your group and keeeping in contact.

On the other hand, as more of an old-school snowboarder, this is one of the lamest things I've ever seen at a resort. I mean, really, if you can't go to a mountain as huge as Vail and have a good time skiing without having to touch base with Facebook and Twitter all day, you belong indoors at a computer screen at all times. And every guy I've seen trackin' vert' on his altimeter-equipped wrist monitor was a bit of a self-obsessed knob that was painful to talk to. This won't help. 

So for me, this is one more reason not to visit Vail or any other Vail resort. Then again, I have a lot of other reasons not to visit Vail Resorts, so this probably won't have much of a bottom-line impact. 

The new system will launch at Keystone on November 5. If you're not turned off by this type of corruption of sport via tech, check out Vail's EpicMix website and try and sit through the video where they basically compare the new system to the addition of lifts to snow-covered mountains.