About the "Baked In"  series: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likes to say that social dynamics are going to work their way into every industry, and the companies of the future will be the ones that bake them in from the beginning, rather than slapping them on as an afterthought. This series takes a look at companies that are discovering new opportunities by using social components in the foundations of their businesses.
The only thing skiers and snowboarders like more than hitting the slopes is jawboning about what an awesome day they had hitting the slopes. If you’re a ski resort and you can find a way to marry that passion with the social nets, you can probably come up with a powerful way to keep guests excited about your resort--and net yourself some pretty decent word-of-mouth in the process.
That’s what Vail Resorts did this past winter when they launched EpicMix , a system that automagically records skiiers' feats of glory--and posts it on Facebook, if they like.
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz tells Fast Company he's seen "more excitement and more discussion about EpicMix than anything else we’ve ever done." The numbers seem to bear him out. About 100,000 skiers and boarders activated their accounts this season--or about 15 % of all guests. About 45% of those opted to make their information public either on the EpicMix site and/or to publish it to Facebook.
A few years back, to save their guests from having to pull out ski passes on chilly days, the company installed radio-frequency (RF) scanners at its resorts that read skiers’ and boarders’ tickets as they pass through lift gates. Now Vail Resorts is leveraging those RF readers to record skiers’ movements around the mountains--tracking which lifts they take and, consequently how many vertical feet they gain--and turning that data into badges (which they call "pins") to mark various milestones.
Take Vail's Sun Up lift, followed by Tea Cup Express, for example, and you earn the "Morning Tea" pin. Cover 100,000 feet in a season, and you join the "Century Club." Ride a single lift 10 times, and you’re a "Monogamist." Hit the slopes when the mercury dips below zero, and you become a "Polar Bear."
EpicMix went live a few days before Christmas. The data is collected automatically at the company's five resorts (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Heavenly). Skiers decide whether to activate their account at the EpicMix website, and then whether to share it on Facebook as status updates. They can track their progress on the EpicMix website, as well as on smartphone apps. They don't only get bragging rights over the feats they accomplish. The system is also a log of their ski trip that they can keep accessing long after the snow has melted. And at least one boarder took the game further, organizing a Meetup  to see how many pins they could collect in a single day.
Katz won't disclose how much the EpicMix system cost to implement, but he says resorts need to think about digital and social media-based offerings the same way they think about the restaurants, ski shops, and ski schools they set up on their mountains. "The digital experience is going to start to merge with the real-world experience," he says, "and [guests] are going to start thinking about both."
[Image: Jack Affleck, Vail Resorts]