Digital Powder- DX at Alpine Resorts

I love snow

The thought of moving away from either the ocean or accessible skiing gives me full-on heebie-jeebies. The choice to attend a “cold weather” grad school was premeditated. This weekend I was able to remedy my yearning for some snow and make a trek to upta’ the Great State of Maine to bid adieu to the 2020 winter season and welcome in spring 2021 on the slopes. Before leaving, I purchased lift tickets remotely, booked lodging online, received and sent payments via Venmo, and made slope-side lunch/dinner reservations via apps on my phone. It finally dawned on me as I badged my way onto a lift and looked down at what appeared to be remotely operated snow cannons – this is all new (to me); this looks like the makings of a decent blog post.

We’re all aware of effects of climate change and have been discussing the different ways that COVID has stomped the digitization accelerator for many industries and increased consumer demand for value capture. This weekend, a few things jumped out to me as positive signs of digital transformation at mountain resorts: radio frequency identification (RFID) and application-based systems, smart snow grooming, and automated mountain management. Digitization allows ski resorts to more judiciously and efficiently maintain their slopes while also optimizing their customer experience by expediting once time-consuming purchases.

Alpine Meadows Ski Resort RFID Turn Style

RFIDs and Apps

RFIDs have been used for some time now outside of the ski industry. The ski industry’s immediate utility is quite apparent – hands stay warm/gloved, and lift agents do not check individual passes. The COVID skiing season forced the human element back into the use case designed to streamline and remove it; only this season the lift agents saw mask requirements. The power from RFID has recently been stepping up a tranche as higher-end resorts now offer season pass IDs that allow users to attach credit card information for purchasing. Concerns have now been raised by some about the ability of personal data to be scraped via RFID scanners, causing companies like Mountain Pass Systems http://epc4roi.com/news/rfid-use-raises-on-slope-privacy-concerns/ to develop sleeves or pouches for RFID passes.

Smartphone-based applications like Skitude provide a “full-featured app to empower your ski experience, before, during, and after your snow getaways.” (Skitude) While I do not use the Skitude application, I could see the merits for a techno inclined skier/snowboarder interested in comparing their black diamond run to double black diamond km/h’s. My concern with any app use in an alpine environment remains cellular data/service coverage.

Smart Grooming and Mountain Management

Many higher-end resorts now employ highly advanced grooming machines. Italian tracked vehicle manufacture Prinorth produces snow groomers designed by famous Italian automobile designer Pininfarina – the design house behind storied companies like Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia, and GM.

How does this relate to the DX? Does this mean Sunday River and Sugarloaf/USA are sporting Ferrari-Esq super groomers? No, not entirely. The magic is in the connectivity. Fellow Italian firm Demac Lenko’s Snovisual 4.0 software and automated snow cannons allow resorts to create an interconnected alpine ecosystem fueled by real-time data insights ranging from satellite photography to snow depth report Prinorth groomers, central groomer’ fleet management, and centralized control from various locations.

Prinorth groomer equipped with Leica Geosystems snow depth system

Demac Lenko rightly claims that digitization of their systems affords operators the ability to efficiently maximize their snowmaking capabilities while factoring in snowmaking’s ecological impacts (water demand, electrical demand, and emissions from vehicles and associated equipment). It was fascinating to learn how technology and connectivity aim to increase my value as a customer by upping the number of runs per day and providing consistent conditions while factoring in the impacts of snowmaking.

Can you think of a similar outdoor activity that struggles with climate change and/or benefits from similar DX advancements? At this point I would have (had) sharing data if it meant I could safely carve turns.

  1. Groomers – Prinoth Corporate
  2. Skitude App –Discover the features of the Skitude mobile app
  3. Pininfarina Design House –Pininfarina – Wikipedia
  4. Demac Lenko – Snowvisual 4.0 – Demaclenko – Snowmaking Systems

10 comments

  1. therealerindee · ·

    I do have to say that the fact they are making automated/machine controlled snow groomers is a hit I was not expecting to take. My ideal retirement job is driving one of these babies in the rockies somewhere, and I am sad that I may need to change my plans but I digress. It has been really cool to see the tech that has been implemented for skiing/snowboarding which I think very much allowed resorts to pivot during Covid times. The fact that everything can be done virtually and your entire day on the mountain can be tracked makes it an ideal Covid activity. I would love to see some of these tech changes be implemented on the golf course as I think a lot of courses are very slow on the uptake. I went to a course last summer that only took cash, what is this 1998? I hope with an uptick in people accessing these outdoor sports, we will see some of the changes indoor sports have taken on.

  2. conoreiremba · ·

    As someone who recently hit the slopes after a long hiatus, I was also very pleased by how far technology had come in making the experience much more enjoyable and frictionless, although no tech would help with my greatest challenge of staying upright. My friends and I all used Strava while we were there which was actually a very cool way to fuel some friendly competition as it kept tabs on not just speed but the distance traveled. I did not realize the extent of DX in mountain management though so thank you for opening my eyes up to that.
    I think another outdoor sport that has been brought to new levels by DX is road cycling. Back in Ireland, it’s become huge, especially during COVID with unofficial bike clubs forming. My friends have all recently started one and I have been tracking their progress on Strava. What is making the experience enjoyable for them has been the connectivity and ability to share their stats after a cycle. We all love data and being able to share it on a social platform like Strava is what seems to be driving many behaviors amongst the cycling community, as my friends endeavor each week to go one better than the previous. From talking to them it has blown my mind how technology has changed every element of cycling, from safety features in helmets to wearable technology, biometric tracking, and even with the saddle. And what’s great is that there are solutions for riders of all levels. I tried going for a ride with them at Christmas but the saddle soreness was enough to make it an annual event for me, or maybe I just had the wrong saddle. Great post!

  3. I enjoyed this blog as I love to snowboard (currently learning and transitioning to skiing). I’ve been to a few different mountains this year and each has done a surprisingly good job of using technology to make things easier with COVID restrictions and requirements. While I am someone who generally likes to figure my ski day on the fly, it actually has been nice to be able to make reservations in advance at the lodges and restaurants through the resort apps. The RFID gates have also seemed to speed up the process of getting people on the lift while limiting exposure to the lift operators. I have used an app similar to Skitude called “Slopes” which provides tracking and data on runs. I am able to compare it to my friends and we can compete for fastest speed. It also has been very useful in getting idea of ski conditions because it is a crowd sourced system where people report back what the snow was like when they were on the mountain.

  4. olivia_levy8 · ·

    Great blog, can definitely relate as I also just closed out the season snowboarding this past weekend in New Hampshire! The mountain I went this weekend to did the old school pass check, but the mountain also in NH I have been going to more often used he RFID scanners but as a handheld rather than a gate. This allowed them to almost do a single quick head to toe scan and the scanner would find the pass.

    As for data and tracking, this was something I never even thought about until this weekend. For me snowboarding is a way to disconnect, but one of my friends showed me his Garmin Instinct Solar GPS watch this weekend that he used to track his stats and it even use its GPS capabilities to be able to pull up a mini map of the mountain. I also now wish I had used Skitude, or even as Conor mentioned Strava to keep track of my stats for the day.

    I think you did a great job integrating the idea of how global warming is pushing this innovation. Another outdoor activity I can think of that is suffering from climate change and using DX to fill the gap is boating. The capabilities of some of those GPS’s, fish finders, and depth finders helps to combat rising sea levels and possibly running aground, any captains worst nightmare.

  5. I have to say that I love RFID based ski passes, particularly out West. It’s so much fun to open up the stats at the end of the day and see what you’ve done!

  6. alexcarey94 · ·

    Seems like we have a lot of skiers/ snowboarders in the class (myself included!) so this was a really great post to grab the attention of the class. I have really seen the benefit of the RFID and apps across the mountain making it a lot quicker to hop through lines and not be waiting in the lodge for a fairly long time to be able to grab a bite to eat. I think an area that many ski resorts could look to implement more tech would be in the parking situation. Often it is a nightmare looking for parking and a system using technology to better direct people to the closets lots/ spots could be helpful (since many people come and go throughout the day). One thing I did not even realize was in place is the smart grooming and mountain management. Thanks for providing some insight on this- I found it very interesting!

  7. Great post Shane. It is fascinating how far digital transformation has affected hitting the slopes. The RFID is pretty cool and I am interested to see if they will be able to translate that to a phone based app or apple watch where you just scan your wearable device to be able to get in. What I enjoyed most about this post is learning about how smart the groomers are becoming. It’s great to see technology making one of winters best past times even more efficient.

  8. courtneymba · ·

    This is so interesting and all new to me. I’m from the south and after 10+ years in New England am still struggling to enjoy snow. I haven’t been skiing in about 5 years, and definitely haven’t tried snow + gamification/technology. It’s possible that extra cool factor would keep me motivated instead of just running back to the lodge. I had no idea slopes were getting so high tech!

  9. AndraeAllen · ·

    Super computers are a fascinating topic. I appreciated how the engineers of Fugaku shifted away from benchmarks and more towards excelling in practical application. This shift reminds me of when Apple released the M1 processor but didn’t release any hardcore benchmarking specifications. After reading your post, I am curious about two more things. Q1: Was this computer designed for research or profit? Q2:How fast can this beast mine some crypto?

    1. AndraeAllen · ·

      Sorry, posted to the wrong thread and don’t know how to remove it :?

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