One of the interesting emerging trends in social media is the rise of geo-targeted social networks focused on specific neighborhoods or locales -- which I will refer to as place-based social networks, until someone comes up with a better name. This week brought the unveiling of an innovative new place-based social network for skiers visiting slopes in Colorado and California, called EpicMix, which puts a new spin on the whole check-in.
EpicMix is a proprietary social network operated by Vail Resorts, which uses radio frequency identification chips embedded in ski lift passes to track the movements of skiers (who opt in) over the slopes of five different resorts owned by the company -- Breckenridge, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Vail resorts in Colorado, and Heavenly in California. Sponsored by Pepsi and Bud Light, the free Web-based, mobile-compatible network allows participants to share records of their ski trips in the form of maps depicting which trails they've skied, compiled via automatic RFID check-ins at 89 ski lifts around the five resorts. Another feature lets users see how many vertical feet they've skied in total.
Taking a page from Gowalla and Foursquare, skiers can earn commemorative, collectible digital pins by, say, being the first or last skier on the mountain, visiting two mountains on the same day, or riding three lifts at night. A Facebook tie-in lets users take their friendly competitions to the social network on EpicMix-branded Facebook "leader boards." Another tie-in alerts them when their Facebook friends are on the slopes, and allows them to send private messages to these friends to arrange meet-ups. They can also access snow and weather reports, trail and grooming information, traffic conditions, and other relevant information for Vail Resorts. Last but not least, users can also post status updates and share stats on Twitter via EpicMix.
EpicMix also includes a service for children under the age of 14, who can participate via their parents' accounts; it features unique content and special pins for young skiers, as well as extra security provisions. Parents can use this site to track their kids' movement around the slopes.
Members can use smartphones to log in to their EpicMix profiles and avail themselves of the various services, but you don't have to own a smartphone to participate; you can just opt-in for the RFID check-ins and then log in to your profile later to relive your days on the slopes (you can also opt-out any time). The social network is set to debut November 5 -- opening day at the Keystone resort. According to Vail Resort execs, the potential user numbers up to 800,000 patrons; in 2009 the company said its resorts host a total 5.9 million skier visits (including a number of repeat visits) equal to about 10.3% of all U.S. skier visits that year.