Vail Resorts announced today that its award-winning, hotly debated and hugely popular ski and snowboard mobile application, EpicMix, is back with a version 2.0 for this winter. The resort company, which owns six mountains in Colorado and California, rolled out details at a press event in Denver today.

The big upgrades for EpicMix are all around photography. The EpicMix application now allows users to upload photography directly to their EpicMix account, where it will appear in the EpicMix dashboard alongside other stats, like days and vertical feet skied. Also, Vail will station professional photographers at all of its resorts, and upon request, these photographers can scan a skier’s RF-enabled pass, take action or group photos, and upload those images directly to the user’s account. If there are multiple people in a group, the photographer can scan everyone’s pass, and the photo will be uploaded to each person’s EpicMix account. 

Vail’s EpicMix program is based of RF-enabled lift tickets or season passes. Each RF pass has a unique ID that can be scanned by lift operators, and now photographers. With that information, EpicMix allows users to use a website or mobile app to view a number of ski-related stats, like lifts ridden, vertical feet skied and more. Vail also created virtual “pins,” that people could earn by skiing a certain number of feet in a day, riding certain lifts or achieving other on-mountain feats. 

OnTheSnow caught up with Vail CEO Rob Katz today to get the inside scoop on the new EpicMix. 

OTS: OK, give us the elevator pitch of how EpicMix is different from last year.

RK: When we launched EpicMix, people asked if it was just like other social media applications that are out there. Obviously there are other skiing applications out there, but the core of what we're trying to do with EpicMix wasn’t about a mobile application. It was about an experience. About about giving people this opportunity to truly capture the time they were having with us, and then share it with friends. That’s the tagline we came up with, “Capture. Connect. Share.”

It was very clear from the beginning, when you say the word ‘capture,’ that’s about photos. That’s the first thing that anyone would think of. But for a variety of reasons we weren’t ready to do the photo piece last year, which is quite a bit more complicated. 

Whether you go on vacation for a day or a week, a lot of the research shows that the time you spend in anticipation of your trip and the time you spend remembering the vacation can actually be more impactful than the vacation time itself. Pictures are a huge part of that memory part of the vacation. Everybody, and certainly families put a huge value on that. 

We’ve made the entire process of taking vacation photos and getting them to our guests totally simple. You can take your own photos with the EpicMix application or you can upload them from your computer if you take them with your own camera. 

The time you spend in anticipation of your trip and the time you spend remembering the vacation can actually be more impactful than the vacation time itself. 

And now, we can go up to someone, scan their pass, take their picture, and automatically the picture goes to their account. It goes to the EpicMix account whether you’ve signed up or not, since each pass has a unique ID. You can sign up and see those photos today or two years from now. If you have five people in your group, we’ll scan each of your passes, and all five people are going to get that photo to their account. If you have kids, and your kids are skiing in ski school for example, that picture goes to the parents account.

What we’re saying is that we’re going to take your picture and we’re going to give it to you for free in a lo-res version to share on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to buy the hi-res version, it’ll be $19.99, and then it’s yours. You can print 1,000 copies. Whatever you want to do.

The application starts totally locked down. If you don’t do anything, no photos, no information, nothing gets shared. You have to go into the application and individually unlock or change things to start sharing. 

OTS: What does all of this look like to the user? 

RK: You’re going to have a dashboard that shows your vertical feet, your pins, your lift rides if you want them, snowfall that day, the professional photos, the photos you took and stock photos. We’re going to have stock photos from all sorts of different things around the resort. Let’s say you went to Beano’s [an on-mountain restaurant at Vail] for dinner, you may not have taken a picture, so we’ll just give you a picture that you can put in. 

You can then just keep those photos on your Mix account and look at them. Or if you want, you can take all those jpegs and upload them to Facebook as an album or to Shutterfly. Or, we’ve created what we call a “Remix,” where you can take 25 photos and mash them together into a collage, and that collage can get exported or shared as a single jpeg, 25 photos resized and reshaped that can then get exported out. 

Collage

EpicMix will automatically create a collage of your vacation and let users share it across social networks.

OTS: Will the professional photographers be doing essentially similar things as in the past, or do they have a different mandate? 

RK: I think it’ll be a very different mandate, actually. Photographers in the past were highly commissioned. They were like sales people. And we’re going to be transitioning that toward instead of worrying about how many pictures get sold, they’re going to be focusing on how many good pictures they take. 

The integration that we’ll have with the photographers gives us a great opportunity. In the past, they had their spots where we had agreed that they could be, and it was hard to integrate them into other spots. Now we see them getting integrated into the ski school. We see them getting integrated on action photos. So somebody could scan your group of friends, scan everybody, and shoot you as you ski down, then give you the photos. 

It will move toward a reservation-type process, where we could see someone saying, “We’re going to be at this place, and we want to get a photographer.”

OTS: You had 100,000 people sign up last year, but it sounds like since you’re dropping paper tickets almost entirely, you think EpicMix can still grow.

RK: We’re increasing nearly four-fold the number of people who can engage in EpicMix. Nearly everyone on the mountain will be able to view an EpicMix account.

If we take a photo of your kid, even if you’re not a social media fiend, chances are you’re going to want to go onto Epic Mix to see that photo. 

Our hope is that it radically changes the level of online engagement we have with our guests. We were thrilled with last year that 15 percent of the population that could sign up did activate their Epic Mix accounts. But there a lot of people who, no matter how cool EpicMix is, don’t care about vertical feet or social media or pins. 

Photos are a whole different story. If we take a photo of your kid, even if you’re not a social media fiend, chances are you’re going to want to go onto EpicMix to see that photo. That changes the equation quite a bit of who’s going to want to go online at the end of the day and take a look. 

And because of the way EpicMix works, if you’ve been skiing for 3 or 4 days and you get your photo taken and you go on to look, we’ve already captured all that data for the first part of your trip. In fact, if you didn’t go on EpicMix last year, but you go on this year, we’ve archived everyone’s data from last year, so you can go on and see your data from last year, even though you never went onto the site last year. 

OTS: This is a lot of money and effort to invest in a social media program that doesn't directly sell tickets. Why?

RK: The social media benefit of people sharing those photos is hard to come by any other way. The real goal of EpicMix is to let your fans talk about you online to their friends. Last year we had 275,000 Facebook posts, all of which are positive posts, people talking about pins and accomplishments. With the sharing of photos, that goes up dramatically, and pictures convey a more compelling connection to a resort. 

OTS: People already seem swamped with the number of social media outlets they’re trying to post content to. Why would they add this to their day?

RK: The question will be whether some people will have an interest in the vertical feet, the pins, and having that in their album. That information is not on Shutterfly or Flickr or Snapfish. The pro photos, obviously, there’s no competition. We’re not trying to compete with something like Instagram in terms of people saying, ‘I’m going to take my own photo and upload it somewhere.’ Our goal is to create something that adds value by mixing it with the other ingredients that Instagram and these other companies can’t have. 

What we see on the mountain is that on the one hand it’s super easy to have a camera and take a picture. On the other hand, it’s not easy to take good photos with a phone, especially with weather conditions. Our view is that there’s always going to be a role for that professional level photograph, especially if it’s not expensive, or free.

And all the photos that are on Epic Mix, with one click can get uploaded into your Flickr of Snapfish account. 

OTS: Are you going to incorporate geo-location technology?

RK: Yes, we’re going to be capturing that information. But in the first year, we’re not going to be turning that on. We absolutely see that, and there are huge opportunities for the future. 

EpicMix Promotional Video