Snow riders can be a bragging bunch. They’re known for sharing harrowing stories of “epic” powder days and graceful maneuvers through vertical fields of moguls, boasting more days annually on the mountain than off.
But absent fellow riders to witness these conquests, they risk being brushed off as exaggerated accounts or, worse, pure fiction. So Vail Resorts, which owns and operates six ski resorts in the western United States, set out to produce verifiable documentation of riders’ achievements.
In 2010, the company launched its EpicMix application via the website Snow.com. The site is a robust resource (with an active blog called Buzz, including photo galleries and featured videos) that had been heralded as an industry innovator, but one that lacked the ability to tap into the sociable nature of snow riders.
And regardless of whether you ski or board, just about everything involved with the snow riding experience is social.
“You drive to the mountains with your friends and family, ski or ride with them all day, and then rehash the day’s events over beers or dinner during apres,” says Drew Frey, social media coordinator for Vail Resorts. “We wanted to replicate that experience online.”
That’s what EpicMix is all about.
Ski operators have been embedding RFID (or radio-frequency identification) chips into lift passes for some time, but EpicMix takes RFID leaps and bounds ahead. The technology works without any effort on the rider’s part, other than enjoying a day on the slopes, measuring a variety of metrics: vertical feet, number of days on the mountain, lifts taken, resorts visited, and more—hard proof for hardcore riders and interactive, user-generated content for Vail Resorts.
Based on accomplishments measured by the mountain metrics, riders are awarded virtual “pins.” The “conqueror” pin goes to those who ride every lift in one day. The “bookender” is awarded to those who ride on both opening and closing days. In total, there are almost 400 graphic pins, each with an assigned point value. Riders with the most points are shown on a leaderboard, and the pins and metrics can be displayed as a checkered-collage image.
“Showing an EpicMix user’s progression is very important, so we have also allowed users to see how many points they’ve earned throughout the course of a ski day/ski season, and what it will take for that skier to level up,” says Frey. “Currently, I’m a Level 13, but I’m hoping to fix that this season.”
Throughout the mountain, Vail Resorts has deployed professional photographers to take snapshots, action shots, and portraits of visitors. These photos are then uploaded to the EpicMix user’s dashboard, where, using a mobile app or online membership, they can share the photos through social media. While the app is handy for dissemination, it’s sort of beside the point.
The idea wasn’t “let’s make a great mobile application,” says Frey. “The soul of EpicMix is all about the mountain experience. Giving people the opportunity to capture the time they were having at our resorts and then share it with family and friends. That’s our tagline: ‘Capture, Connect, Share.'”
EpicMix employs a photo-quality assurance team to examine and review images before uploading to ensure the content is appropriate. Users can’t currently upload their own photos, but that’s coming.
The EpicMix crew is overwhelmingly excited about the program’s success. In the 2010/2011 season, they claimed nearly 100,000 users, a 15 percent adoption rate for all eligible guests. By December of 2011, EpicMix counted 280,000 posts to Facebook and Twitter, exceeding all of the previous year’s posts. More than half of those included a photo.
Last year’s leaderboard competition seemed locked in for Shawn C., who had been leading throughout the season and finished with over 42,000 points, 20,000 more than the next in line. But on the last day of the season, Charles A. switched his season from private to public, showing 45,130 points and sending Shawn C. to second place. Charles A. skied 171 days and over 7.2 million vertical feet.
As he boasted on the Buzz blog, “There’s only one way to put it: It’s been an ‘epic’ season.”