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RFID Wins Gold With U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team

This winter, the organization's Gold Pass—which provides major financial donors with access to ski resorts across the nation—will contain HF and UHF passive RFID inlays, compatible with all RFID-enabled ski lifts.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 07, 2012For the past 40 years, big-ticket donors to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team have been rewarded with a gold medallion from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), allowing them to access nearly all American ski resorts. This year, USSA is doing something different: It is embedding radio frequency identification in the passes. The enhanced functionality of the latest medallion is a nod to the trend of ski resorts installing high-frequency (HF) or ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID readers at their lifts.

This coming season's Gold Pass—available to donors contributing $10,000 or more—will contain two RFID inlays enabling them to recognized by any of the readers installed at ski lifts across the United States. Until recently, an RFID tag would not get skiers very far at most resorts, since few used any technology other than bar-code scanners. But in recent years, says Kate Klingsmith, USSA's assistant director of Gold Pass development, a sufficient number of resorts have RFID readers in place, enabling skiers to access lifts faster and easier, that USSA felt it would be a great advantage to Gold Pass holders.

USSA's Kate Klingsmith
In fact, approximately 30 resorts now have either HF or UHF readers installed for lift access control, point-of-sale transactions or other features for skiers, according to John Collins, the product manager at Denver technology and media company Active Network (formerly known as RTP), which provided the Gold Pass, as well as the software that stores medallion numbers and shares that information with each resort's lift-access and ticket-window operations. The firm has provided the software service to USSA for the past decade, though this is the first year that it has also been responsible for providing the pass itself.

The Gold Pass has been a 40-year tradition, thanking U.S. Ski Team donors by authorizing access to most American ski resorts for up to 50 visits at each location for the duration of the ski season, which begins in October. Up to 400 are distributed annually, Klingsmith reports. The pass is a gold-colored medallion that a donor can wear around his or her neck or carry in a pocket, she says, adding that donors often comprise individual companies or groups that that may then share the pass with other organizations, or with their own employees or clients. For the past several decades, a bar code has been printed on the medallion's front. When a user arrives at a resort, the facility's staff members recognize the Gold Pass by sight, granting lift access, but they typically also record the visit—usually by scanning the bar code—in order to ensure that the number of visits does not extend beyond the allotted 50. "That's really to be fair to the resorts," Klingsmith explains, since none of the facilities are compensated for the visits, but rather offer the service as a favor to USSA.

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