Does Technology Bring More Enjoyment to your Winter Sports?


High tech has infiltrated the ski resorts near you. If you haven’t held a pass in your hands recently at a wonderful old school mountain, you will notice some changes the next time you venture out. The verification system for getting on the ski lift is now done by RFID at most major resorts. Buy a ticket, put it in your pocket, and the gate will open for you. Once you own a ticket, you can reload it online or at an automatic machine by the lift ticket counter, saving you valuable time on your way to get those first tracks in.

Vail Resorts which owns 10 ski resorts, including Heavenly, Kirkwood, Northstar, Breckenridge, etc., has taken the technology to an even higher level. Purchase one of their re-loadable passes, (with your picture brilliantly displayed on the front), and every time you get on a lift, the system digitally records what lift it was and even calculates the number of runs and vertical feet for the day. Yes, they have gammified the ski pass and setup a simple rewards/incentives system to push yourself farther if you choose.

Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe has free Wi-fi in all of its 6+ lodges spread between California and Nevada. Employees on the mountain can take your picture and upload it to a website for you to purchase, all on a separate wireless network devoted to the mountain photographers. Keep an eye on the social media as Heavenly recently built a new lodge at the top of the gondola which features an après-ski party atmosphere (learn more here), complete with DJ’s and a couple of female dancers performing onstage wearing a cross between a bikini and a snowsuit.

Recon HUD

Is all of this technology starting to drive you nuts yet? Dish out $400-600 for a pair of Recon Goggles (see picture above) that give you a HUD (Head’s Up Display) located right below your line of vision in your right eye. Hit the trails and find out your average speed, top speed, elevation and vertical for the day. (Sidenote: The stats I received in my goggles did not match that of Heavenly’s Epic Pass App, probably due to riding the gondola back down to the village again.)

If you are lost, the Recon HUD shows your location on a live trail map (via the built-in GPS unit). It will also show you where your buddies are if they have the Recon ‘Engage’ App loaded on their smartphone. Imagine retelling the adventure at the end of the day over drinks with people who were actually there in your personal “game”.  Technology enhances the experience. It augments reality.

In my humble opinion, I am so glad that GoPro will not continue to corner the market with their sports video camera. Contour cameras had a bit of a setback financial and leadership wise, but they are back in business and hopefully setting up relationships with the athletes they use to sponsor. If you have a Contour camera or are purchasing one, you can actually view the video that the camera is seeing on your Recon goggles display. You can also see whose calling, or texting, or even pick a music playlist via the simple, gloves-friendly controls strapped to your forearm or on the side of the goggles. Cameras capture the best moments, the worst moments, and of course the unforgettably embarrassing ones… but not just of us, of our crazy friends.

There is some resistance to using HUD’s within the sporting community. Does it give athletes an unfair advantage or cause distraction? Would use of HUD’s lead to more accidents? We don’t think so.  In fact, this argument doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when our own military pilots and race car drivers have been using HUD’s at incredible speeds safely for many years. The amount of time it takes to look at the speedometer in your car is the same amount of time it takes to look at the HUD in your goggles. So obviously some of us fear the unfamiliar. But in time, we adapt. We improve. We accept the ease and enhanced life that technology provides us. I mean where would be without digital voice mail? (I know a few of you still have parents holding out with their answering machines. There’s probably a support group for that.)

Technology has been used to push the physical bounds of what we can do with our bodies. Feeding information to a race car driver visually, or a Tour de France racer getting feedback via an ear-bud is helping to push the athletes to new levels of performance. Winter sports is going to become the next stage for this technology.

Cannondale released a concept computer controlled front shock that used GPS to memorize the race course during your first inspection run. During the race, the computer will adjust the shock according to where you are on the race course. Stiffer shock on the uphill’s and flats, while the microchip loosens up the shock for the bumpy downhill’s, jumps and drops.

This type of course memory can be used for ski jumpers, ski/board racers, snowmobiling and a variety of other winter sports.

We don’t need to look at technology as giving us an edge over others, and many assume that we are moving away from the fundamental roots and nature of the outdoor sports with technology. Humans have always pushed themselves to new limits, whether taking on the first wooly mammoth with a spear, to prove our manliness to the other villagers, or even  Travis Pastrana doing the first double backflip on a motorcycle. We will always push ourselves, and technology can make it safer and give us feedback to help prevent injury, and to make quantitative deductions. The smartphones and gadgets should just be considered as our pets or sidekicks and not a human distraction.

Most winter jackets, pants, boots, goggles and gloves have a Recco chip built in to them. These are to help search and rescue workers to find individuals in case of an avalanche. It’s a technology that 99% of the users will never need, but it’s so inexpensive that it’s worth it for the manufacturers to install it in everything. With the amount of Wi-Fi coverage on the slopes, and the new iBeacons making their debut, I can imagine the location finding systems getting better for snow emergencies and overall fun. But, please don’t try to play football while coming down the slopes; that’s just dangerous.

To close here… I have to share one of my current pet peeves. Why is it that hardly any of the finish huts at the race courses have Internet access? They may advertise Wi-Fi, but seriously.  Are we living in the stone-age? Resorts will have to work harder to keep up with demand. This should be a no-brainer as most finish huts are in close proximity to a chair lift so that the wire can be strung up the mountain to whatever location. The Banzai App (see my past blog post) is one of the first of its kinds to give quick results to the racers, but ‘Live’ results are nearly impossible due to lack of local Wi-Fi, cellphone based Wi-Fi, or a hard-wire to the finish lines. Hopefully all of your major resorts will start to push the cellphone providers for another antenna or at least purchase another DSL or Fiber Internet Line for the thousands of alpine customers that are posting their epic sunny days or tricks to Facebook and other social media.

Don’t forget to send us your outdoor play pictures to @genzplay!


Cheers, Steve

p.s. My Recon goggles showed me that my average comfort speed on the slopes is between 33 & 38 mph. My fastest speed for one of my days was 52mph. This would have been faster, but its early season and I had the short skis on. 😉


About steve@genzplay

Based in Sonoma Valley, California, GenZplay was founded in August 2011 by Steve Calhoun to make video games a physically active part of his son’s outdoor life. The company is focused on integrating gaming mechanics with everyday activities, especially those that need a mixture of fun and adventure to motivate and inspire. Follow GenZPlay at or Twitter @genzplay.

Posted on January 14, 2014, in Personal. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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