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Aspen lifties go high tech to bust pass fraud

Scott Condons
condon@aspentimes.com
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen TimesA scanner checks ski passes as people load into the Silver Queen Gondola in Aspen, Colorado. The Aspen Skiing Co. recently invested $2 million in new technology and implemented a stiff new penalty for those who engage in pass fraud.
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ASPEN ” Ski-pass scammers face a tougher time sneaking onto the slopes in Aspen, Colorado this winter thanks to a $2 million investment in technology and a stiffer penalty for those who get busted.

The Aspen’s Skiing Co. raised the fee it charges to reinstate season ski passes that are used fraudulently from $196 to up to $500, Skico senior vice president David Perry said Tuesday. In the past, the company charged a $100 fee and made the passholder buy a single-day lift ticket, now priced at $96, when their pass was used in a scam. Now it’s a flat fee of up to $500.

“We want this charge to be a deterrent and people to know about it in advance,” Perry said.

The resort has busted about 100 people for fraudulent ski-pass use so far this season, Perry said. The system is more secure because the company is using more high-tech access gates at key chairlifts at the base of its four ski areas. The gates read passes, and a swing arm opens to allow one person through.

Lift operators have gone high tech ” using hand-held monitors and laptop computers to screen skiers and riders going through access gates. The monitors and laptops also are used when a skier or rider has a pass manually scanned. The new gizmos display the ski-pass picture and information about the owner as they go through the access gates or get their pass manually scanned.

If the picture doesn’t match the person’s appearance, lift operators stop the person to verify that they are the legitimate pass user or bust them for fraudulent use of the ski pass. They confiscate the pass and require the owners to talk to managers to arrange reinstatement.

Paul Major, the resort’s managing director of information technology, demonstrated Tuesday at the base of the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain how effective the system can be. He stood inside the gondola building behind glass and watched the screen of a laptop as skiers and riders passed through an access gate 15 yards away. The ski-pass photos of the last four people to enter the access gate were displayed on his screen, along with the name of the passholder and the type of pass.

During the demonstration, Major saw something that didn’t look right. A pass was registered to a woman but used by a man. Major intercepted the man as he entered the gondola building, politely explained the problem and asked the man to surrender the pass. The scofflaw complied without argument and walked off with a sheepish look on his face.

The man was told he would have to purchase a single-day lift ticket for $96 to access the ski area. The woman who owns the full-season pass faces an even tougher task ” she will be required to talk to managers about the use of her pass. In some cases, there might be mitigating circumstances ” if the pass was being used without the owner’s knowledge, for instance, Major said. That might constitute a reinstatement fee less than $500 ” if a convincing argument is presented.

The most common way that scammers get busted is when they use a pass owned by a member of the opposite sex, Perry said. Another is when a person doesn’t respond to the name of the registered passholder.

Perry said he was working the Village Express chairlift at Snowmass on a recent Friday when he scanned a pass, then wished the passholder a good day. The young man didn’t respond to the name on the pass, so Perry spoke to him again and still didn’t get a response. Perry then asked the man to step aside and asked to see his pass. The man denied he had a pass and insisted he used a single-day lift ticket. When Perry persisted, the man got out of his snowboard and escaped to a village shuttle.

Perry alerted other lift operators to watch for the pass. The man tried to use it two more times and was finally apprehended by Snowmass Village police, according to Perry. The Skico’s policy is to turn ski-pass scammers over to police when they are uncooperative, Perry said.

The use of the monitors and laptops at the base area chairlifts is becoming more widespread. Over time, lifties will get better at using them and spotting fraud, Major said. Lift operators are given a $100 bonus for catching a scammer.

The resort is in the first year of a two-year program to install access gates at the base area chairlifts. There are 22 gates this season. There could be as many as 45 gates next season, including four at the Silver Queen Gondola. Fraud protection isn’t the only advantage of the system. The gates read a pass using radio frequency, allowing hands-free access for skiers and riders. The pass doesn’t have to be taken out of a pocket to be scanned.

The technology has improved to the point where it is faster and more efficient than having a pass manually scanned, Perry said. The system is rare in U.S. ski resorts but common in Europe. The Skico spent just under $2 million on its system, he said.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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