'Less waiting, more skiing'
AL ZAGOFSKY/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Blue Mountain Ski Area General Manager Jim Dailey demonstrates the Passport Radio Frequency Identification card and card reader. The Passport system is like EZPass and can be read while the card is inside the chest pocket of his ski jacket.
Under its multimillion dollar renovation, Blue Mountain Ski Area has gone high touch and high tech with a focus to provide, as General Manager Jim Dailey noted, "more time to ski, more time to relax."
New features include two new Glade trails, Blue Baumer and Sleepy Hollow, and high efficiency snowmaking guns, and amenities such as a new Summit Lodge Courtyard patio for outdoor eating, and big windows overlooking the slopes at the indoor cafeteria.
On the subject of "what's new at Blue 2011" are two examples of high tech on the slopes - Radio Frequency Identification and automated ski and snowboard tuning.
"Radio Frequency Identification is similar to EZPass," explained Heidi Lutz, Marketing Director at Blue Mountain Ski Area. "You can put our Passport in your outer jacket pocket. The Passport looks like a business card, except it has a chip embedded inside. You need to keep it away from cell phones, credit cards, and expired versions in case the radio frequency signals cross, or you'll be stuck outside of a lift."
What used to be a lift ticket has been replaced with the Passport, an RFID card that, once it is activated, is read as a skier passes through a turnstile portal at the entrance to the chairlift.
When checking in at Blue Mountain, the Passport card you purchase is activated, which can then be carried in the chest pocket of your ski jacket.
"It can be read it through clothes," said Lutz. "Then the gate will open and you can get on the lift."
The Passport can be used for a single day of skiing, or it can be renewed online. Renewing online offers the convenience of avoiding lines on your next visit to the slope, and gives you a $2 discount.
Renewing doesn't affect the card. It creates a data base linked to the card, which helps Blue Mountain stay in touch with their guests.
Before commissioning the Passport, turnstile card readers, and online renewals, Lutz estimated that it took 45 minutes for a guest to park, buy a lift ticket, rent equipment and get to the slopes. With the RFID system, she feels process will be reduced to 30 minutes.
"Less waiting, more skiing," she said.
Blue Mountain's other high tech introduction is the Montana Challenge MAX automated ski and snowboard tuning machine.
"I tuneup skis and snowboards, and try to make them like new," said tuneup operator John Gabor. "A tuneup redoes the base, the side edges, the base edge, and we also wax."
A tuneup lightly planes off the base and cuts an array of tiny scratches into the surface. These diamond stone calibrated scratches are called structure. The structure helps to channel melted water. The MAX has 50 preprogramed structures to meet a variety of temperatures, skiing conditions, and skiing styles.
The machine, which was installed in mid-December, can tune 30 skis and snow boards per hour.
Even Blue Mountain's marketing brochure has gone high tech. In the corner of the brochure is a bar code icon. Guests use a cell phone camera equipped with a bar code app to access Blue Mountain's mobile web site for special deals, discounts and information.
"We are on our way to our best season," Dailey said. "We are doing a little better than last year, which was our best year. Our guests seem to love it. They love changes to the Summit Lodge courtyard outdoor eatery, and the ability to renew the lift ticket online. The number of people doing this is increasing each week."