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Vail Resorts unveils ski slope geolocation system

As apps like Foursquare and Facebook Places permeate the mainstream, one ski resort operator is hoping that it can use similar tech to its advantage.

Epic Mix

A few months before its five ski resorts open for the season, the Colorado-based Vail Resorts has unveiled a preview of something called Epic Mix, a set of Web and mobile apps based on skiers' activity as logged by radio frequency (RF) readers around its resorts.

It'll go live when the first of Vail's resorts, Keystone, opens for the season in early November. Vail Resorts' season passes and lift tickets are already RF-enabled, but with Epic Mix, interested skiers can unlock "pins" in the manner of Foursquare badges, get ranked on a vertical-feet leaderboard, post all manner of ski-related updates to Facebook and Twitter, and--via a mobile app--see their friends' activity on the slopes in real time so that it gets way easier to meet up for beers at the lodge. There's also a kid-oriented site for children under 13, which limits sharing to the kids' parents and has its own set of kid-friendly pins.

A skier can turn off RF functionality entirely if he or she so chooses, the company explained.

Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said in a New York press event Monday that the company had ruled out partnerships with existing "check-in" companies, or an emulation of those services, because of the fact that he said they did not want to require any additional behavior to participate--"We don't think that works while you're on vacation," he said.

Not to mention that many ski resorts are not exactly hotbeds of high-quality cell phone service, and checking in can be a pain when you're wearing thick ski gear and don't want to accidentally drop your iPhone off a chair lift.

Katz said that he hopes Epic Mix will "give a digital face to the experience, the very real experience that people are having day in and day out on our mountains." Unfortunately, the RF scanners are currently only located on entrances to ski lifts, so it can't precisely track exactly which mountains an individual is skiing on, though Katz said that it may be improved in future years--potentially along with real check-in rewards for frequent skiers (so, for example, if you make it down that double black diamond your first scotch on the rocks is free). Also out there is the possibility that the technology could be licensed to other resorts, meaning that the geolocation craze may be enjoying packed-powder prominence very soon.