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Tracking Skiers for a Good Cause

The White Pass ski resort raised more than $50,000 for the American Cancer Society by tracking how many vertical feet skiers and snowboarders traveled. The system could be used as a loyalty program.
By Jonathan Collins
Apr 05, 2004This winter, the American Cancer Society teamed with the White Pass ski resort in Washington State to raise money for the charity's fight against cancer. The Vertical Challenge fund-raiser, which ran from January 3 to March 21, used RFID technology to track participants' every descent down the mountain. Skiers and snowboarders raised more than $52,000 all of which will go toward preventing the disease and saving lives with much of that money coming from a sponsored competition where more than 25 teams of 10 competed to accumulate the highest number of descents in a 24-hour period.

Long-range readers eliminate the need for gates with antennas, which means skiers don't need to think about the system

Skiers and snowboarders were issued a small plastic RFID tag-designed to look like a medal or coin with the resort's name and logo on it-which they attached to their jackets to record the number of vertical feet the traveled throughout the season. Readers mounted on chair lifts picked up the battery-powered signals from the tags. Vertical Challenge participants competed on two levels: dollars raised and vertical feet. In addition, registration fees ($35 for an adult, $150 for a team of up to 10) went to the American Cancer Society. The organizers also set up personal Web pages for the participants, which they could use to track their progress and solicit donations.

The Vertical Challenge was the first time the American Cancer Society (ACS) used RFID in a winter sporting event to raise funds, but White Pass has offered its customers an RFID-enabled way to record their descents at the mountain for the past three ski seasons. The resort's Vertical Advantage program awards prizes for the highest totals at the end of the season.

In 2003, around 400 people signed up for the program. In fact, the idea for the ACS fund-raiser came from a skier who participated in the Vertical Advantage program last year and saw the potential to extend it to raise money for charity. "I was sitting on a chairlift at White Pass last March and wondered about how the technology could be used to raise money for charity in a way that would be a lot of fun too," says David Ludwig, who became the event organizer. He selected ACS as the charity and worked with IDmicro, a Tacoma, Wash., RFID systems developer and equipment manufacturer, and the White Pass resort.

IDmicro deployed its readers and tags at the mountain in order to develop an RFID system suitable for the skiing industry. According to the company, its experience on the mountain helped it create a system that can record real-time data accurately and reliably in harsh conditions. IDmicro also believes that some of the lessons it learned can provide insight for companies preparing to roll out RFID in manufacturing and retail supply chains. "Passive UHF tags can be greatly effected when outdoors in adverse weather conditions and retuning readers is not a viable option to offset it," says Greg Stewart, executive vice president of business development at IDmicro.

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