Technology learns to ski with #social #mobile and #data

On a recent trip to Mammoth Mountain, California, I had a first-hand look at mobile, social and data at work.

I’m a lifelong skier. I fell for the sport as a child and never looked back. I worked on farms in Upstate New York where I grew up just to buy my equipment and I paid for college working in ski shops. To this day, the smell of burning ski wax brings back my best memories.

While technology rapidly changed most of my world, my beloved winter fun remained mostly unaffected. Sure, skis and clothes changed, lifts got faster and snowmaking got better, but even mobile technology came late; most mountains only gained cell coverage in the past few years. And it was only a short time ago when pulling out a cell phone on a lift would be met with frowns of disapproval by the purists, who were many in number. Skiing was a way to get away from technology.

Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Mountain, California is just what the name says and covers over 3500 acres. Runs are everything from easy to expert runs that drop from the mountain peak itself. It is our favorite place to ski. On a recent trip, we had a chance to see the same mega trends of mobile, social and data come to one of the last holdouts for technology. It was a great example that few things will be left untouched by what’s happening in every aspect of our lives.

RFID

The first major change was the ticketing system that is now RFID. No more teens in resort uniform wading through the queues of skiers checking for tickets. No more paper flapping in the wind from your zipper, with each day a different color to prevent fraud. In the off season, Mammoth installed the largest RFID gate system of any resort in North America. 68 RFID-controlled arms support 19 lifts, all at key access points to the mountain.

The goal is to reduce wait times at lifts and the ticket window, two areas that test skier patience. Even better, once the skier has the card, it can be recharged online or through the Mammoth app. It never has to leave a jacket pocket, but it does need to be kept separately from credit cards and metallic items. Anyone not following those simple rules can be seen at the RFID gate doing what the staff calls, “The RFID Dance” as they try in vain to trigger the sensors.

The app

Cell phone coverage is now a skier expectation and phones have replaced radios as the means of skier and staff communication. It seems everyone has a smart phone and Mammoth has their own app. Trail maps, forecasts, lift information and more, plus the ability to add days to your RFID pass (integration!). It even allowed me to create a persona and share thoughts and experiences with other skiers and snowboarders…just find me at ‘ski_fiend’. It helps build a community around Mammoth Mountain that adds a dimension to a sport that has long been about individuals, small groups of friends, and family. It offered to search my contact list and find friends who also have the Mammoth Mountain app. It is very mobile and very social.

As visitors ski the mountain, the app maps runs against a map of the resort, showing exact tracks on the mountain. It also tracks distance covered, vertical feet, and average and maximum speeds. Once back at the condo, I was able to download a file to Google Earth to have a visual representation on a satellite photo of the resort.

The app isn’t over-the-top in technology, but it brings together mobile, social and data in a way that wouldn’t have been dreamed of just a few years ago. It would be far less rewarding to ski at resorts that don’t put so much data and communication at my fingertips.

Data

But what does Mammoth Mountain get in return other than customers who are informed and connected? They get an amazing amount of valuable marketing data. Each card is linked to name, address, birth date and phone number. They can accurately determine a skier’s ability level and what type of offers should be sent. They can determine who only skies infrequently and might be enticed to come more often. They know their customers in new ways and can design the experience better to meet the needs of those who come most often. It is a leap forward in marketing for an old-world sport.

Personal touch

Imagine my surprise when I received a thank you from the mountain for my business, along with a survey about my experience. My interaction with Mammoth was managed from the first contact (the RFID card) to the survey after the experience.

When data, social and mobile have arrived in my beloved sport of skiing, we can say it is reaching for ubiquity. What comes next? Stay tuned.

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Categories: Data Analytics / Big Data, Mobility, Social / Collaboration, Sports

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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5 Comments on “Technology learns to ski with #social #mobile and #data”

  1. January 29, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    Chris, our commonalities mount. I, too, am a lifelong skier (who also took up snowboarding a number of years ago). My favorite place is Aspen and they’ve had the RFID system for a few years now. I know that dance, having performed it a few times myself. I’m not aware that Aspen has an app yet. I think it’s great that Mammoth has an app, but there’s a missed opportunity here.

    The real future of any successful social media channel is crowd-sourcing. If someone like yourself were to create an open source version of that app and make it so that anyone could add resort data and link it into the tracking mechanisms, then skiers (and boarders) could trace their activities across resorts and resort owners could pay to have access to generalized information about skier patterns, which would fund continued development of the app.

    I believe that as the social media market matures, few private enterprises will have the resources to compete with free, open-source, crowd-sourced alternatives. There is a myth that these enterprises take away economic value from the marketplace. They only take away corporate greed, something that many of us are getting tired of. Much if the work that needs to get done will still be paid for and these enterprises will create paying jobs to the extent they create market value.

    I wish you low winds and deep powder this season.

    • January 29, 2012 at 8:25 am #

      Great comments. Agree that there are many more things the could be doing. Day 3 at Mammoth and first tracks in a few minutes.

  2. January 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Didn’t see that technology at Breckenridge yet – and still had a tag flapping in the wind! But the rapid development of equipment blew our minds this weekend at the SIA show in Denver!

  3. January 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    Good post. This is a huge trend – apps that enable active lifestyles and utilize offline features. Others include Strava and AllTrails (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/allsnow-ski-snow-reports-offline/id417601403?mt=8)

    • January 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

      Absolutely right, Greg. I’d love to do a post on these apps. Let’s talk.

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