Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Technology at the ski resorts

I heard something on the radio that got me thinking about how the ski areas are beginning to adopt technology to improve their customer service. I thought it might be fun (since I can't actually ski) to show how the three Park City resorts are progressing.

Park City Mountain Resort
Oddly enough, PCMR seems to be the furthest along, which is amazing because they don't seem to spend much money improving the resort itself.
  • Tickets:  PCMR was using hand scanners for tickets for quite a while.  The old solution was to have a ski pass printed with the date it was valid.  A human had to check it at every lift.  The hand scanners are a decent improvement because the information about a ticket's validity is stored and updated in a computer.  Get a 10 day pass and every day it gets scanned, it automatically deducts a day. Lose your ticket?  They just cancel the lost one in the system and give you a new one. This year PCMR made the big jump to RFID-based passes.  You get a pass with a tiny chip in it.  You put the pass in your pocket and go ski.  Gates automatically check your pass and allow you onto the lift (or not).  Faster. Easier.  No digging passes out for a human to read or scan.  Huge improvement!
  • Smart phones:  PCMR just released a pretty cool app for iPhones and Android.  You get the normal ski maps, weather, and lift status, but it also adds the ability to buy additional days for your ski pass (no lines to wait in) and to use the phone's GPS to track your skiing all day.  It can give you all sorts of great stats about where you went and how much you skied.
  • Old technology:  As much as they have done a nice job with the new stuff, they can't seem to keep the Town Lift running, which provides the ski-in/ski-out for everyone staying around Main Street.  They also made a big deal about a new (small) wind turbine they installed. It hasn't worked since December.
Deer Valley
The mantra at DV seems to be that having customers interface with machines is bad and interfacing with people is good. 
  • Tickets:  It is as old as it gets.  You have to go to a sales desk and either buy a ticket or pick one up if you bought it online.  Bought a 10 day pass?  Every day you want to ski you head back to the counter to get a new ticket. You attach the ticket to your clothing and every time you get on a lift, a human reads the date.  Lose your ticket, pray they believe you.  Want to buy another day, get back in line.
  • Smart Phones:  DV also came out with a smart phone app, but it seems like they took the cheapest route possible.  They worked with a company called iMap which just stuck some DV specifics into a generic weather app. You can see the weather forecast, a useless map showing the topology of all of Utah, a snow report, and for the lift status, they just redirect you to a DV web page which has no navigation.  Pretty sad.  I hope this was just a temporary solution.
Canyons has been putting a lot of money into improving their infrastructure with new lifts, overhauled restaurants and a nice apres ski area.  Technology? Not so much.
  • Tickets:  they are where PCMR was last year, with the hand scanners and computerized tickets.  Worse than PCMR's new RFID system, but better than DV's 1950s solution.
  • Smart Phones: Nothing at all.  Even DV's weather app looks good by comparison.  Hopefully it is because they are trying to do something more useful.
If you want to see where things are really heading, check out EpicMix by the company that owns Heavenly, Vail, Keystone and others.  Watch the little "What is EpicMix" video.  They have even started hooking all the on-mountain photography into the RFID chips, so that any pictures they take of you show up in your online account and you can post them to Facebook or Twitter with a single click.  It is a single solution for all of their resorts and the pictures are free.

I am hoping that Deer Valley and Canyons step up their game and at least catch up with Park City, but ideally look ahead to what companies like Vail are doing.
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