Technology at ski resorts offers skiers info, images of day on slopes

Technology at ski resorts offers skiers info, images of day on slopes
A skier at Breckenridge resort in Colorado. (Aaron Doddgs / Associated Press)

The first rule of skiing: There are no friends on a powder day. Technology has infiltrated every corner of our lives, but really, the idea of tweeting my snow stashes is sacrilege.

In the spirit of keeping up with the technology, however, I set aside my skepticism/cynicism/self-interest to see whether anything could improve on what is already, for me, a great experience.

And, at Vail Resorts, maybe even a picture-perfect one. Back in the day, pushy photographers made money by photographing skiers against mountain backdrops. But now you can get your grin pics and, starting this month, action shots with Vail's EpicMix.

Some skiers know EpicMix for its social media aspects. It tracks skiers' activity at the 89 lifts in Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado and Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe. The season passes and daily tickets have RFID chips that track lift rides, vertical feet skied, days on the hill and more. It takes the work out of bragging about what they have accomplished.

But now skiers have ac¿cess to free photos of them¿selves because photographers will be waiting at sce¿nic vantage points, on runs and terrain parks to catch them in action. After you scan your pass with the photographer, the shots are delivered automatically to your EpicMix account.

Coupled with some of the stats they've accumulated (and EpicMix has kept track of), they can design their own "Hey, look at me!" self-promo. Let's hope skiers will be honest and include the head plants, lousy snow, closed runs, stalled lifts and wind-swept whiteout conditions that can characterize some ski trips.

No one knows whether these efforts to turn skiing into a virtual video game, a reality app and a scrapbooking weekend will encourage enough youthful cohorts to consider winter sports to reverse the attrition of aging baby boomers. But the marketing value is pretty clear.

Snowbird and Ski Utah already promote their resorts by way of free apps that provide maps and real-time info on snowfall, weather, lift openings and road conditions. Skiers can feed their best photos to the Snowbird Photo of the Day stream. The Utah Snow Report also gives snow conditions and offers live webcams and general information for 13 ski areas. Each resort updates the info every morning.

Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada, has gone techno with its "Live" app providing all the usual information about hill and chill as well as tracking by vertical feet. Its customizable "Live" bars link to Twitter, Facebook, photos and events. Next year, Whistler plans to launch a pilot program for mobile commerce, enabling purchases from mobile phones. Initially, season pass and loyalty card holders will be able to use their phones as their ski pass.

As you consider what to add to your app collection, one developer notes that those apps that rely on the Internet may leave you wanting more — more connectivity, that is. Jim Barr, who devised the Snowseekers app — a digital guidebook to 19 Canadian resorts that includes a powder alert to guide you to the snowiest slopes — notes that some apps may cut out in remote areas. Some also incur expensive roaming charges if you move out of your network range.

If you're a newbie, SkiTips is mobile ski instruction for iPhone and Android, promising an "instructor in your pocket." It could benefit everyone on the mountain if some of those dangerous skiers in denial about needing lessons make use of it.

For speed demons, the Ski-o-meter for iPhone will track your speed. And the trend toward Flaik GPS trackers at ski schools certainly takes the worry out of leaving young ones for the day with cell phone-sized trackers that attach around the child's leg. If a child is lost, staff can instantly locate them by computer. Kids wearing the GPS tags can be tracked on the mountain so you'll always know where your rug rats are. The tracker also includes info on runs explored so you know if your kids are some place they should not be. So far 11 North American and three European resorts use Flaik.

There are hundreds of apps, of course, and not all have to do with the on-mountain experience. Snow Magazine's "Ski Hotel Guide" is available as a free iPhone app for browsing and booking worldwide ski accommodation listed by country.

Barr's app has a "heat map" that highlights après activity at the Canadian resorts it covers.

Others promise an insider's perspective on other area secrets. Still, I don't think there's an app that can improve on those carefree chairlift conversations in which a season passholder shares directions to that morning's best snow. From my vantage, there is no app for that.