Snowcial conference combines skiing, technology

Posted By: The Ski Channel on January 7, 2011 9:53 pm

The snowsports and tech industries shared the stage at the third-annual Tahoe Snowcial conference on Friday at Harveys Lake Tahoe Casino and Resort in Stateline, Nev.

Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, spoke about his company’s EpicMix technology initiative for this ski season. On the technology side, avid skiers Josh Williams of Gowalla and Dave Morin of Path addressed the latest developments in social media. Returning for a second year, musician and technology entrepreneur MC Hammer took part in the conference before performing a concert at the neighboring Harrah’s casino Friday night.

Katz outlined the strategy behind EpicMix, a system that allows guests to track lift rides at five of the six ski areas owned by Vail Resorts. Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado, plus Heavenly in the Lake Tahoe area, have the EpicMix readers installed. Recently acquired by the company, Northstar-at-Tahoe is slated have EpicMix next season.

Guests can earn “digital pins” in EpicMix as rewards for certain activities on the mountains and choose to share their accomplishments through social media. For now at least, Katz said the awards will likely stay in the virtual realm as opposed to real discounts or physical prizes. “Our goal is to stick to digital pins because I think that actually speaks to the very essence of what this is all about. I’ll say that, but I’ll leave myself the out that things can change,” he said.

Responding to a question from a conference attendee, Katz suggested that the largest ski resort operator in the country would be interested in letting other ski areas join the concept. “We’d be very open to doing that, but the issue for other mountains is that it isn’t just an iPhone app or Android app,” he said. “The way we’ve attacked this, rightly or wrongly, this requires RFID (radio-frequency identification) media and a particular type of chip and they have to invest in all the readers and then they have to be comfortable if it’s our app that we have access to that data. Whether or not that’s going to happen or not, we’d be very interested in having that discussion, but I’d say it’s unlikely. That is a negative (that EpicMix is limited to Vail Resorts areas). I’d be lying to say otherwise.

“I think the question on the top of a lot of people’s minds is why didn’t we just use the GPS functionality of a phone or use Foursquare or Gowalla (location-based, social-networking technologies). We decided, again rightly or wrongly, that such a huge percentage of our folks are already running around with a pass that has RFID in it,” he added. “If we’re asking people to download an app and push a button or run their GPS all day long and run their batteries down, especially in the cold temperatures, our conversion rate is going to be in the low single digits, if that. The opportunity we had with RFID is that it’s going to give us much greater conversion and I think we’ve already seen that.”  

The conference is scheduled to continue with skiing and riding at Heavenly Mountain Resort on Saturday and Sunday. Representatives from Aspen Skiing Company, Mammoth Mountain, Google, One to One Interactive, Freeskier Magazine and Travel & Leisure Online are among the attendees.

For the first time in conjunction with Snowcial, the Reno Gazette-Journal hosted a informational workshop for bloggers. Among the speakers, Shannon “Shay” Johnson shared her experiences in building the popular snowboarding blog,



(Photo courtesy of Eric Wagnon)