Thanks to EpicMix, everyone knows what you did last winter

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology isn’t new, even to the travel industry. Resorts have been using RFID to help guests keep track of each other for several years.

But I’ve been following Vail Resorts’ new EpicMix application with some interest. As a consumer advocate, any technology that can be used to improve travel gets my attention. And I love the way social media — which is a central part of EpicMix — has the potential to make your vacation better.

At the same time, I’m concerned with the privacy implications of any gadget that knows where you are.

EpicMix is a lift-pass system that tracks your movements on the mountain and then allows you to retrieve them online, awarding you Foursquare-like badges for your activity.

Here’s a video that describes EpicMix.

I’ve had a chance to use EpicMix at several ski resorts since January and have heard Vail Resorts executives address some of these issues at a conference.

Let me jump right into the most controversial one: You don’t have to use the RFID feature in EpicMix. In fact, some skiers have removed the chips from their passes because they feel it’s no one’s business but their own where they go skiing.

It might be impractical to offer a no-RFID version of the Epic Pass in the future. But I’m sure any ticket agent will help you cut away the chip so you can ski anonymously. Here’s more on EpicMix’s privacy policy.

For the rest of us, EpicMix offers a glimpse into an interesting future that could apply to all kinds of travel experiences, from cruises to resort hotels, to yes, TSA and customs screening. I don’t want to spend too much time on the latter point, except to say that I’m sure our friends in Washington are curious about all this.

Scroll back to the top of this post and you’ll see my dashboard from Vail’s Snow.com site, where I can track all of my movements. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

The display indicates that I’ve skied at two trackable resorts, Heavenly and Vail. You can see the amount of vertical feet I’ve traversed and when. I’m not the world’s most aggressive skier, but in fairness to me, there’s some data missing. Not every run showed up on here, probably because my pass was unscannable today (I put it deep in my jacket).

EpicMix awards you “pins” for your skiing. They’re visible on the far right of my screen. The “10th Mountain Division” pin is for visiting Vail the first time with EpicMix, for example. The “Hang Ten” badge next to it is for skiing more than 10,000 vertical feet.

There’s also a rewards program associated with EpicMix, and of course you can allow the system to share your skiing accomplishments with your friends on Facebook or Twitter. All of these are designed to make the experience “stickier” — in other words, to make you want to keep coming back, sharing your ski history with friends and spending money on hotels and lift passes.

I think this technology is in your future, even if you don’t live anywhere near a mountain.

Imagine the applications of RFID in the gaming industry, the cruise business, for all-inclusive resorts and even airlines (just think, no more lost baggage!). Some of these applications are already being deployed.

What Vail Resorts has shown us is that you don’t need a computer science degree to use RFID technology. The EpicMix web interface is user-friendly and uncluttered. I like the fact that you can just use the Epic Pass as a simple season pass if you want, without sharing the data with your friends or Vail Resorts.

People who are familiar with EpicMix’s development say there’s more in store (one insider referred to it as “stage two”) that should be launching soon, incorporating new, as-yet untold features.

I’ll be interested in seeing the next version. I have a feeling I’m not the only one.

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