Building Customer Loyalty, 85-pixels at a time

How Vail Resorts keeps them coming back for a little digital love

August 17 2012 by Clark Kokich


Vail Resorts CEO Robert Katz was looking for an idea which would transform what it meant to be a ski pass holder. He found it in EpicMix.

Launched in the fall of 2010, EpicMix provides a personal scorecard of each customer’s accomplishments on the mountain that can be viewed on the Web or via a smartphone app. The idea is similar to the location-based social network Foursquare, but with one big difference: You don’t have to drag out your phone to check in, or even to sign up. The data’s all there, ready for viewing, when and if you want it.

This elegant solution was accomplished by imbedding 800,000 RFID chips in Vail passes and lift tickets. These passes are scanned automatically at the bottom of each lift, so Vail has a great deal of information about each guest, information which can be used to fuel a social experience.

Skiers access their information through a personal dashboard. The most competitive skiers are now galvanized to get to the top of the EpicMix leaderboard by skiing the most vertical feet. Less ambitious participants can also earn digital points – inspired by colorful metal pins that have been part of the ski culture for decades. In addition, Vail has posted professional photographers on their mountains. These photographers take candid photos of skiers. A quick scan of their pass and those photos are waiting for them when they get home. Most are quickly posted to Facebook and other social networks.

The result is far-reaching promotion for Vail Resorts that hits some very desirable targets: the like-minded friends of current customers. The math is compelling. More than 50,000 Vail guests activated their EpicMix profiles during the first five weeks of the program’s trial season, posting an average of four updates on Facebook. Participation has tripled since the launch, and so far this year, Vail has seen over 1.8-million social posts from EpicMix members.

While one of the ultimate aims of EpicMix is to spur this kind of unbiased promotion, Vail Resorts doesn’t look at the program strictly as a marketing expense. Katz explains that EpicMix is designed to enhance the quality and fun of a visit to the resorts, so Vail looked at the investment in EpicMix in the same way they look at adding lifts, snowmaking equipment, or a new restaurants. In short, EpicMix has become an essential part of the total product experience.

It’s no wonder Katz is continuing to support EpicMix as a core differentiating strategy. Despite continued softness in the economy, Vail Resorts managed to increase revenue 31% between 2010 and 2011.