Vail Resorts has begun beta testing a new location-based social network for skiers and boarders at Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek in Colorado and Heavenly in California. Dubbed Epic Mix, the system relies on the existing bar code scanners the lift operators use to scan your lift ticket before you board the chair lift.
I found out about it when a friend skiing at Vail this week posted an update on his Facebook page. (Apparently I missed Vail Resorts’ August news conference in New York announcing Epic Mix. I mean, it was in August. Who holds a news conference in August?)
This video explains:
At any rate, the idea is pretty simple. If you have an Epic pass, which is a plastic ID photo with an RF identification chip embedded inside, you can join the network.
Participants can track their vertical feet and their days on the mountain. Along the way, they earn digital pins. (For years, skiers have traded actual pins from different resorts, so this actually may have some appeal for skiers and boarders.)
Scanners are set up at 89 lifts across five resorts.
Epic Mix is integrated with Facebook and Twitter, but Gowalla and Foursquare are not part of the mix, so to speak. In fact, in a promotional video, Vail Resorts’ CEO Rob Katz promises that Epic Mix will be better than Foursquare and Gowalla.
“We’ve taken that concept and made it real,” Katz remarked. “We’ve attached that concept to the mountain and allowed people to totally explore and experience everything the mountain has to offer.”
Okay. So Gowalla’s pins and Foursquare’s badges are not real and your digital pins are?
Here’s what I like about Epic Mix:
If you’re playing Gowalla or Foursquare, you’ll have to fumble with your phone to check in at a location on the mountain. With Epic Mix, you’re checked-in, when the lift operator scans your pass. There’s no fumbling with your ski gloves and you don’t even have to turn on your phone to check in.
That said, social networks are well, social. So how are you going to know where your friends are? By fumbling with your phone. (Taking off ski gloves to click through an smartphone’s screen is a bit of a hassle.)
While Katz promised that a mobile app for Android phones and the iPhone would launch in November as part of Keystone’s opening day, both versions of the app are delayed. Vail’s Epic Mix website encourages users to access their Epic Mix sites on their mobile phones until the mobile apps are live.
That’s fine I guess. But I’m not sure if users can set up the Facebook and Twitter integration from their smartphones. So unless a skier or boarder brings their laptop with them on their ski or snowboard trip, they won’t be able to share their Epic Mix experience with friends until they get home.
For an East Coast skier who travels west once a year, this doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Besides, I’m already playing Foursquare and Gowalla. Starting with a third network as part of a three-day ski trip is too much of a hassle.
Where I think it does makes sense is with families. Parents will be able to track where their kids are on the mountain, something that’s always a logistical nightmare for families who ski together. It also makes sense for local skiers like my friend, who lives in Denver and has a weekend home in Vail. (He and his family ski at Vail every weekend in the Winter.)
I think if I were in marketing at Vail, I would have explored a partnership with Gowalla or Foursquare instead. Doing what Disney Parks is doing with Gowalla would have worked perfectly with a ski resort like Vail. And with some effort, they could have leveraged the idea of a RF chip automatically checking users into Gowalla or Foursquare.
What Vail doesn’t seem to understand is that approximately 5 million people are using Foursquare and approximately 600,000 people are using Gowalla in their lives off the mountain. Since the Epic Mix network won’t work anywhere else and Gowalla and Foursquare players have already set up locations all over the Vail Resorts ski areas, not just the chair lifts, I think the odds are stacked against the Epic Mix being successful.