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Aspen automates lift gates, but not without operator oversight

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesKhyle McCann, center, shows a skier how the Aspen Skiing Co.'s new automated gate system works at the base of Aspen Mountain on Monday. Skiers and snowboarders no longer have to show their pass to a lift op. The pass can be left in a pocket; it's scanned automatically and the gate opens to let them through.
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ASPEN – Lift ops toting hand-held scanners have disappeared at the entrance lifts at all four Aspen-Snowmass ski areas, but anyone thinking they can sneak through the new automated gates with someone else’s pass stowed in their pocket should think again.

The Aspen Skiing Co. has installed radio-frequency identification turnstiles at all of the lifts where skiers and boarders can gain access to a ski area – that’s 41 gates at 16 locations in all, said Ron Chauner, the company’s director of mountain access.

The automated turnstiles debuted at a few locations last season, allowing skiers and boarders to enter a lift line without producing their ski pass or lift ticket. The pass can be left in a pocket, the system reads it, and the turnstile opens.

“People liked it. It was convenient and handy,” Chauner said.

The automated system doesn’t mean Skico personnel aren’t keeping an eye on who’s coming through the gates, though.

Lift ops man a computer terminal at a podium with a clear view of the gates. The computer screen displays photographs and pass information as skiers and boarders pass through the turnstiles. Just as they did in the old days, the lift ops are likely to pull a party aside for a closer look, sans helmet and goggles, if the customer doesn’t bear a resemblance to the photo scrolling down their screen.

“If the faces don’t match, we’ll pull that person over,” Chauner said.

The automated gates are part of the Skico’s effort to get customers onto the slopes quickly, he said.

“The people at the podium, what we hope is they become more of a customer service rep,” he said. They will, for one thing, be able to tell customers how many times they’ve already hit the slopes this season by checking the data displayed on their screen.

And, at Aspen Mountain, and the Village Express and Alpine Springs lifts at Snowmass, the lift ops at the podium can swipe a credit card and add another day of skiing to a pass or daily ticket. That capability also exists inside the lift offices near the Campground lift at Snowmass, Lift 1A on Aspen Mountain and at West Buttermilk – “places where there’s not a ticket office in the immediate vicinity,” Chauner said.

In the future, though not this season, guests will be able to hold onto a ski pass and purchase new days on it for the following season through an online transaction. The pass will be ready to go when they arrive, he said.

Aspen-Snowmass is currently one of the few “all-automated access” resorts in the country, according to Chauner.

For those unfamiliar with the technology, Chauner offered a few tips:

• Keep the ski pass or lift ticket in a pocket separate from your cell phone.

• Keep the pass or lift ticket in a pocket separate from your wallet, particularly a wallet stuffed with other cards.

• Don’t carry passes and tickets from prior seasons, or passes from other resorts.

• When heading through the turnstile to board a gondola, don’t hold your skis right in front of the pocket containing your pass. That could interfere with the system’s ability to read it.

FYI: While the antennae at automated gates last winter was on the left side, this year they are on both sides, so a pass or daily ticket can be read easily, whether it’s stowed on your left or right side.

janet@aspentimes.com


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