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Benefits Up and Down the Ski Slope

Vail Resorts' RFID ski lift pass program enhances the customer experience while improving business operations.
By Jill Gambon
Jun 01, 2009—On April 29, RFID Journal presented the third annual RFID Journal Awards to four companies for outstanding achievement in radio frequency identification technology at RFID Journal LIVE! 2009, the seventh annual conference and exhibition. The winners were:

Charles Vögele Group for best RFID implementation

Focus Magazine for most innovative use of RFID

Vail Resorts for best use of RFID in a service

ODIN Technologies for best in show

Instead of simply upgrading the bar-code scanners used to authenticate lift tickets and passes, Vail Resorts opted to evaluate alternative technologies to see if improvements could be made.

Best Use of RFID In a Service: Vail Resorts
When pass holders at Vail Resorts' mountains hit the lift lines, they no longer have to fumble with gloves, jacket zippers or ski poles to get their identification cards ready for scanning. Instead, skiers and snowboarders can glide through the lines while an attendant using a handheld RFID interrogator reads their RFID-enabled passes, which can be safeguarded inside jackets or pockets.

The Easy Scan system, which replaces bar-coded lift passes, was rolled out at all five of Vail Resorts' mountains last November, after two years of extensive planning and testing. It was designed to streamline lift access and improve the overall experience for the roughly 1.2 million skiers and snowboarders who flock to Vail's mountains each year. Vail Resorts, a $1 billion publicly traded company based in Broomfield, Colo., operates five of the 10 busiest ski resorts in the United States: Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail in Colorado, and Heavenly, which straddles the border between California and Nevada.

"Customers love the new system," says Robert Urwiler, the company's chief information officer, and that's important because season pass holders make up a growing portion of lift revenue for Vail Resorts. The RFID system also helps differentiate Vail Resorts' properties from its competitors, Urwiler says. The company is realizing other benefits as well: The marketing department is using the data gathered from the tag reads at ski lift entry points, which provides information on how customers spend their time on the slopes, to target promotions. And the new validation process is helping to reduce season pass fraud.
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