Skiers Gain Art-Decorated RFID for Lift Access at Granite Peak

The system, provided by SKIDATA, will allow season- and day-pass owners to access the resort and lifts hands-free using an RFID card, and to utilize the same pass—which features artwork from a different local artist each year—to collect loyalty points and engage with the resort later in the season.
Published: August 28, 2018

Wisconsin’s Granite Peak Ski Resort, the largest ski resort in the U.S. Midwest, is launching an HF RFID system this season that will provide access control. The solution is expected to expand to a credit-card linked payment system by the end of the season, and to a loyalty program next season, if all goes as planned. The system, provided by Austrian technology company SKIDATA, will be taken live when the resort opens this fall, according to Lisa Zilinsky, Granite Peak Ski Resort’s marketing director.

The RFID system comes with a community-centric feature, Zilinsky says, known as the Designer Series from Local Artists. With the launch of the new 13.56 MHz HF RFID-enabled tickets and passes, the resort invited the community to submit artwork that would be printed on the front. That art would then cycle to other pieces and artists in subsequent seasons.

Granite Peak, located in Wausau, Wis., is a 700-vertical-foot ski resort with 75 runs and four high-speed lifts that can serve 3,500 visitors daily during an average ski season. That season typically begins in late fall and continues into April or May, depending on the weather. The resort is located in Rib Mountain State Park. Until this season, the ticketing system was all based on paper, Zilinsky explains. “If you had a season pass, you could go straight to the lift,” she says, but that pass had to be manually checked by lift operators each time the lift was used.

The resort wanted to come up with an RFID pass that could be stored on a rechargeable card on which credit to access lifts could be added at any time. With the new system in place, skiers can first buy a day or season pass online, entering information about themselves, such as their gender, age and address. They can also upload a photograph of themselves. That data is then linked to the unique ID number on a printed RFID card, which is useable as a day or season pass, according to the purchase dictates.

Upon arrival, each guest signs a waiver (unless he or she has already done so ahead of the visit), and that person’s signature is stored in the resort’s Siriusware point-of-sale (POS) system and is linked to his or her RFID-based account. The visitor will not need to sign the waiver again during subsequent visits. After signing and acquiring the ticket at the ticket window, the guest is then instructed to carry the pass in a pocket on the left side of his or her body, after which that person can proceed to the lift.

As the guest approaches the turnstile, a SKIDATA RFID reader designed and manufactured by the company captures the tag’s unique ID number. The turnstile automatically releases its lock if the guest is authorized to enter, and a green light is displayed. The user can then proceed to the lift.

The system can do more than merely allow automated access, however. It also tracks where individuals are at any given time. By knowing their location as they enter the lift, the system can locate specific party members or aid in search operations.

For instance, Zilinsky says, parents or children often go to the office seeking other members of their party. Traditionally, office personnel then use the public-address system to call for that individual. With the SKIDATA system in place, they can simply view the last lift entrance accessed by the missing individual, and thereby identify which slope he or she is on—and thus where party members could expect to find that person.

Determining the vertical feet completed for specific skiers also offers the opportunity for rewards programs. “Once implemented,” Zilinsky says, “a loyalty program will be able to see who completed the most vertical miles,” and thereby offer rewards.

At the start of the following season, with a new software platform from SKIDATA known as Loyalty.Logic, Granite Peak plans to offer payment functionality with the pass or ticket, provided that it is linked to a credit card in the user’s account, according to John B. Keefe, who leads the company’s North American sales. That information serves two purposes, he explains. It can help users accrue loyalty points, and then, once a specific number of points are acquired, receive a reward—for instance, a discount or free ticket to another service in the area, such as a hotel’s water park.

For the resort, it also enables analytics, since the facility can utilize the data to better understand the demographics of those who ski, as well as how often and when they do so. That information enables the resort to target specific groups for advertising, Zilisnky says, while also offering efficiency-improvement potentials. For instance, if the resort finds that certain gates are rarely being used at particular times, those gates can be closed, thereby saving the cost of operation for that gate and the employee staffing it. “That can help us increase efficiency,” she states.

With regard to fan loyalty, the software tracks not only the number of lift-ticket uses, but also other information such as social-media activity. For example, users who “like” the ski resort on Facebook could earn points on their loyalty account. The resort can also use the software to enable them to interact with skiers, by offering such promotions as a voucher for a birthday.

Granite Peak’s Lisa Zilinsky

What’s more, the solution helps the resort to prevent fraud. Most ski resorts must contend with people selling or giving away lift tickets to others in the parking lot as they leave the park, or sharing their passes with others. In the lift lanes, cameras take pictures of faces, which can then be compared to the photo accompanying each ticket holder’s information as he or she passes through the gates.

According to Zilinsky, Granite Peak operates a sister resort in Minnesota known as Lutsen Mountain, which will also adopt the technology in about three years. The Wisconsin installation represents SKIDATA’s first deployment in the U.S. Midwest, according to Keefe. The technology is in use primarily in Europe, but also in North America, to make skiing more convenient for the skiers themselves, and to make resort operations more efficient. “The skiing industry, in general, is embracing technology,” he reports.

In addition to Loyalty.Logic, Keefe says, SKIDATA is preparing to release another new technology-based product. Later this year, the company plans to release Skiosk, its cashless ticket vending machine that enables users to purchase and print an RFID-enabled lift ticket or pass.