Vail Ski Resorts to Issue RFID-Enabled Season Passes

Customers and employees of Vail Mountain and it’s 3 other Colorado ski resorts, Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek, will be issued RFID-enabled season passes this winter.  This hits pretty close to home for me since I’m writing from Colorado, but I’ll probably never see the RFID passes in action because I’m not much of a skier.  Actually Vail isn’t alone, a growing number of U.S. ski resorts are adopting high-frequency (HF) passive RFID-enabled passes.  But Vail will be issuing ultra-high frequency (UHF) passive EPC Gen 2 tags that can be read at much greater distances. 


Starting the 2008-2009 winter season, all base lift employees will be equipped with Intermec’s CN3 mobile computer with an IP30 handheld RFID reader attachment (pictured at left).  As skiers and snowboarders approach the lift, the RFID reader will collect the unique identification number encoded on the passes.  The handheld will then transmit this data to back-end software via Wi-Fi to determine if the pass is valid.  Once the software confirms a pass is valid, the pass holder’s information will be transmitted back to the handheld reader for employees to verify.  This data will include the customer’s name, birth date and even an image to help ticket scanners confirm a physical match.  You may be thinking it’d be pretty hard to compare an image when someone is wearing a hat and goggles, but employees need only ask a challenging question that they hold the answer to on their CN3 to quell any doubt.  This process is expected to increase customer convenience because patrons won’t have to dig for their season passes.  An additional benefit this RFID implementation is expected to provide is increased safety.

One of the reasons Vail decided to go with the ultra-high frequency EPC Gen 2 tags is because of their longer read range.  Vail is toying with the idea of adding readers, such as Intermec’s IF61 fixed-position readers, to upper lifts that would require tags to be read from a further distance.  Utilizing ultra-high frequency tags gives Vail the flexibility to add this type of hardware in the future.  Traditionally, tickets aren’t checked at the upper lifts, but doing so would be very beneficial for both customers and employees.  With fixed readers Vail could know the whereabouts of skiers and snowboarders higher in the mountains, increasing safety and offering valuable insight into customer movement.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if Vail makes these additions, but if you hit the slopes this winter, RFID-enabled passes and readers will be on hand.