Vail Resorts introduces upgraded Epic Mix
DENVER – Vail Resorts proved Wednesday that it’s more than a ski company – it’s also proving to be a technology innovator within the ski industry.
Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz announced the latest upgrade of the company’s Epic Mix mobile application and website, Epic Mix Photo, at a downtown Denver luncheon for media and Front Range Epic Pass holders.
The company is no longer contracting with Sharp Shooter for on-mountain photographs and instead will hire about 200 staff photographers across its six resorts. Their job will be simple: Take as many photos as possible of skiers and snowboarders having a good time on the mountain. They will not be salesmen, as the photos will be free.
Epic Mix, which launched last winter, allows skiers and snowboarders to keep track of their ski days. Beyond that, they can earn pins for various milestones, track the amount of vertical feet skied in a day and throughout the season, and link all of that information to their social networks like Facebook or Twitter.
The company is taking Epic Mix a step farther for the 2011-12 season by adding the photo component, something that the company says will highly benefit it from a social media and marketing standpoint, too.
“If you think about social media, and especially for resorts and vacation destinations, word of mouth always comes up as the No. 1 reason why people choose (a destination) – not that marketing and other things don’t help, they do – but word of mouth is so strong and powerful,” Katz said.
Katz said about 15 percent of the pass holders who could sign up for Epic Mix last year signed up. He said that’s a huge number because similar applications typically only have about 1 percent or 2 percent engagement.
But that wasn’t enough for Katz and Vail Resorts. They wanted to make Epic Mix better and also take the photography business into the 21st century.
“Photo sharing is the fastest growing area in social media,” Katz said. “We want people to take these photos and show them to other people.”
The company’s motivation for investing in Epic Mix Photo is partially for its own marketing benefits, but it’s also a way to give guests a better experience, something Katz said is the company’s main mission.
“We literally wake up every single day and think about how do we improve the guest experience,” Katz said.
The photos taken at each of the company’s six resorts – Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek, Heavenly and Northstar-at-Tahoe – will be free for Epic Mix users. Epic Mix is available, also for free with the purchase of a season pass or lift ticket, to just about everyone this year as the company is moving away from paper tickets and completely switching over to its hard-card passes, all of which have the RF technology embedded within the pass.
Photographers will ask skiers and snowboarders first if they’d like their photos taken. Those who want a photo will get their pass scanned by the photographer, allowing the photo to be automatically uploaded to that person’s Epic Mix account.
“In the vacation photo business where professionals are taking your photo, typically you are paying a tremendous amount of money for a single print,” Katz said. “We are totally changing that business model. We think it’s not consistent with where photos are and how important they are to people’s vacations.”
Those who do want to buy a high resolution version of their free photos can buy them for $19.95 a piece.
James Skogen, an Epic Pass holder from Golden, is looking forward to the new feature. Skogen uses Epic Mix already to track his days on the mountain and his vertical feet, and this new feature is a big upgrade, he said.
“Now with being able to integrate through Epic Mix, especially with the camera feature, that will be a lot easier,” Skogen said.
The camera feature is a camera within the Epic Mix application where users can take a photo with their camera phone and it’s automatically uploaded to Epic Mix.
Skogen can’t wait for the day when Vail Resorts installs cameras around on the mountain that can capture action shots as you ski by. Katz said that’s a possibility, but the company would have to make sure it’s done in a way where people know the cameras are there and nobody’s picture is taken without their permission.
For now, the photos will be taken solely by human photographers, he said.
The news is exciting for skiers and riders who participated in Epic Mix last season. Mia Chilman, of Denver, said the application allows her to compare herself to her friends. It’s also a tool she uses to push herself to do more runs or ski more days.
“It does push you,” Chilman said. “I found myself last year saying I have to do one more run, I’m almost to the next barrier, I need to get more vertical feet.”
David Ford, of Denver, has a competition going with his friends who also have Epic Passes.
“Like how many times did you get up there, were you able to get this pin,” Ford said. “So I think it’s kind of fun, it’s kind of a rivalry.”
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.