The social network goes skiing

Before he downloaded an iPhone app called Cyclemeter two months ago, Donald McNeill had only a vague idea of where he’d skied on any given day.

But after he hit the slopes of Killington, Vt., for a few early-season runs last weekend, he knew exactly where he’d been — right down to the minute.

“I could track the number of runs, vertical feet, and how long I’d been skiing,” said McNeill, a retired sales manager who lives in Bridgewater Corners, Vt. “The app also accesses Facebook and Twitter, where it updates your status as you reach certain intervals.”

As the 2010 ski season starts, developers and resorts are releasing a flurry of new applications for skiers and snowboarders. They include everything from high-profile contenders like Vail Resorts’ EpicMix, to less flashy initiatives, such as Newry, Me.-based Sunday River’s new Facebook application, Sunday River Patches.

“Social media has a huge opportunity in skiing,” said Dave Aidekman, whose site, Adventurati, is releasing a new social application for skiers in December. “As resorts build social aspects into apps on mobile devices the opportunity will — forgive the pun — snowball.”

The reason? Skiing is a social sport, and with location-based services just coming into their own, the new apps are natural fit. Plus, they appeal to resorts, which see them as opportunities to encourage guests to spend more money and come back sooner.

No more snowjobs
Social media has already helped skiers and snowboarders. A recent study found ski resorts across the U.S. and Canada reported 23 percent more snow, on average, on weekends than during the week. In other words, the more business they stood to gain, the “deeper” the snow.

Turns out there’s an app for that problem. It’s called SkiReport.com, and it allows skiers to independently verify snowfall levels. The program is credited with ensuring these self-reported snowfall numbers are accurate.

“Social media as a whole has really just increased transparency and opened up communication channels for friends to talk to friends and companies to talk to their consumers,” said Jon Brelig, the founder of SkiReport.com.

Mountain resorts have also become more honest with themselves as a result of social media in general, and the new generation of apps in particular.

“For a number of years, there was a corporate air about many ski resorts,” said Evan Reece, the co-founder of Liftopia, a website that sells discount lift tickets. “At first, companies tried to project perfect images of themselves, and slowly realized that they could not control their image by burying unique attributes — positive or negative — when they popped up online. Once they embraced the dialogue with consumers instead of trying to control what was said about their brands, their success in social media began to take off.”

More than trail maps
The most high-profile of the new apps is called EpicMix, an initiative of Vail Resorts, which owns Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and Keystone ski areas in Colorado, and Northstar at Tahoe and Heavenly Ski Resort in California.

EpicMix, which is available on the iPhone and Android platforms, captures the activity of guests throughout each of its resorts through radio frequency scanners on lift tickets, tracking rides, calculating vertical feet skied and days on the mountain, and recognizing special achievements by granting guests commemorative digital pins.

“Skiing and snowboarding have always been about sharing your experiences on the mountain and talking with friends and family the great runs you took or remembering a powder day,” said Rob Katz, the chief executive of Vail Resorts. “EpicMix marries the very real social experience of skiing and riding with the fun and sense of sharing created by location-based social media, making it accessible to everyone.”

But EpicMix is hardly alone.

Ski Tahoe just released a new iPhone app that features weather and snow conditions, a seven-day forecast at the resort, ticket prices, road conditions, and a “flip to view” trail map.

The North Face introduced a new version of its Snow Report iPhone app, which gives skiers and snowboarders instant resort-specific and community-based updates on snow conditions at most domestic and international resorts.

Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in Utah recently launched an app billed as an “insider’s tool to keep you deep in the know,” which offers everything from snowfall totals to live Twitter feeds from the mountain and a ski-day counter.

Sunday River’s new application, Sunday River Patches, builds on the nostalgia of embroidered patches often seen sewn onto jackets and backpacks, allowing visitors to earn any of 25 patches by checking into key places located throughout the resort’s eight interconnected peaks.

This is only the beginning of a location-based, social media revolution for skiing and snowboarding, predicted Chris Wallace, co-founder and chief operating officer of The SuperGroup. His company recently worked with the Weather Channel to develop a program called Snowjoke.com, which lets users create videos of themselves participating in various downhill winter sports.

“Social media is all about interacting with other like-minded people,” he said. “There’s obviously a community of skiers out there, and a large number of them are certainly social media users. In the near future, online communities will report snow conditions in real time, allow people to share their stories of downhill adventure, and offer advice to those wanting to graduate from the bunny slopes.”

(Photo: Caffin ara/Flickr Creative Commons)

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