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Flaik: GPS gadget was on display in Vail

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado
Theo Stroomer/tstroomer@vaildaily.comFlaik inventor Steve Kenney, right, explains the GPS-based system to a potential client at last week's Mountain Travel Symposium in Vail.
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VAIL, Colorado ” A new gadget called the Flaik may not change skiing at Vail as we know it, but it could be a fun new tool for the Facebook crowd or a great way for families to meet up on a big mountain like Vail.

Steve Kenney, a former aerospace engineer, helped design the Flaik, which combines a couple of clever ideas. The gadget uses Global Positioning System technology to locate itself anywhere in the world. It then will transmit that information to cell phones or computers.

The technology lets skiers or boarders track their statistics ” including number of runs, speed, vertical feet ” and share them with friends.

The technology also can be used to compare your speed with that of your friends.

“We just ran a race at Aspen with no officials on hand,” Kenney said. “We gave out tags at 8 a.m. and got them back at 2 p.m. We had results immediately. It was good fun.”

A Flaik also gives users a way to show their friends how their vacations are going.

“Steve and I skied yesterday and sent messages to our friends,” said Mike Wallas, a partner in Flaik. “They took a look at where we’d been, and now our friends know about Vail.”

While there are all kinds of cell phones, a Flaik can give its location as both a text message, and, for those who use more advanced sets, as a dot on a map.

That could make a Flaik an important tool for either families or, particularly, ski schools.

“We’re really pushing into ski schools,” said Mike Wallas, a partner in Flaik. “The way it works is that everyone in a class will get one, and if a student gets 100 meters or more from an instructor, the unit will notify the instructor.”

That can provide peace of mind for both teachers and parents, especially at a big resort like Vail, Wallas said.

What a Flaik can’t do, though, is replace an old-fashioned avalanche beacon. The company’s Web site urges people to use proper safety equipment in the backcountry because Flaik only works where there’s cell-phone coverage, and there are some pretty big holes in that coverage in the mountains, even near resorts such as Vail.

But cell-phone coverage is generally pretty good at resorts, and a big or small ski area also could take advantage of the information Flaik generates for its own marketing.

“Vail knows nothing about me right now,” Wallas said. “With this, people can log on and create profiles, where I ski, what equipment I’ve rented, where I’m staying. If you take that information, now resorts are marketing to people they know, where they ski and what equipment they use.”

The Flaik technology could also be modified to let people buy lift tickets, rentals and meals without carrying their credit cards with them.

Wallas and Kenney are Australian, but they’ve set up shop in Vancouver, British Columbia, to try to get the Flaik project off the ground. The two met in Brisbane, Australia’s version of California’s Silicon Valley. Wallas, the older of the pair, took on Kenney as a kind of protege as well as investor. The company doesn’t have much to show for its efforts right now, but the buzz is building.

“We’re still in our very early days,” Wallas said. “But there are so many uses for this ” mountain biking or hiking ” and the mining industry is very interested in it as a way to track equipment in real time.

“We’re just building awareness right now.”


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