Mobile Ski Apps Enjoy Snowball Effect

Imagine you’re skiing down a mountain. After hitting a terrain park and doing a few jumps and half-pipes, you launch a mobile app on your smartphone to see how many vertical feet you’ve skied and how many digital pins you’ve collected that day.

That’s just one of many capabilities to be offered by Colorado’s Vail Resorts, which next month will launch an online and mobile application for the 2010-11 ski and snowboard season. Dubbed EpicMix, the app allows guests at any of Vail’s five resorts to capture their performance and share it with others via social networks.

Mobile apps are becoming as ubiquitous on the slopes as skis and poles, enhancing the experience for skiing enthusiasts—and providing brand- and loyalty-building opportunities for the marketers themselves.

Mobile apps are not new to skiers. Many other resorts and ski/snowboard brands have implemented such applications. Gear maker REI’s Snow and Ski Report, for example, was voted by as one of the best-branded mobile apps. Snow and Ski Report lets skiers learn about snow conditions at various resorts. The latest version for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad is available for free on iTunes.

What makes EpicMix different is the fact that it will use the infrastructure already in place to capture the data. Radio frequency scanners are being installed at each of the 89 lifts across the Vail properties. Each season pass and lift ticket has an RF-enabled chip to track lift rides, calculate vertical feet skied and days on the mountain. The chip can be disabled if guests choose to do so.

Then there’s the social media component, which, according to Mike Slone, director of interactive and online marketing for Vail Resorts, is what’s really going to attract the younger generation of skiers and snowboarders. For an enhanced experience, the EpicMix mobile app can be downloaded for the iPhone, Android or another smartphone to unlock the social media capabilities. For instance, the app can alert skiers when their Facebook friends are also on the mountain.

“One big trend is that people expect better experiences from ski mountains, especially millennials and Gen Y-ers. They all grew up with technology and we built EpicMix to connect with those consumers,” said Slone, adding that in many ways, Vail Resorts’ app follows the example of innovative concepts like Nike+ (the ability to capture your ski or snowboard experience) and Gowalla (collecting digital pins).

Crispin Porter + Bogusky handled the experience design and development of the app in collaboration with the Vail IT and marketing teams.

Digital and mobile marketing is a smart strategy for any resort trying to reach today’s consumer, said Noah Elkin, principal mobile analyst at eMarketer. According to eMarketer’s March Hospitality eBusiness Strategies survey, 26 percent of hoteliers are planning a mobile-ready Web site this year, 24 percent are planning an iPhone app, and 28 percent are planning SMS text marketing.

“The increase in digital and mobile efforts makes sense from a strategic perspective,” Elkin said. “Mobile content—whether sites or apps—makes a lot of sense for ski resorts, especially those on the scale of Vail, Aspen and Killington . . . Using this and other nontraditional channels to deliver incentives can help drive adhesion.”

Nontraditional channels seem to be the preferred choice for resort marketers. (Meanwhile, traditional advertising for ski products and resorts has been declining over the years. According to the Nielsen Co., ski ad expenditures were $13.4 million in 2008, $11.5 million in 2009 and $6 million though July 2010.) Here’s a look at how the other major resorts are using digital, social media and mobile this season: