Domaine de Balme, RFID and lift passes

Wednesday was forecast to be the last day of the week with good weather. (Rain and cloud was forecast for the rest of the week, and we’re in it now!) So, Mrs D and I ventured up to Domaine de Balme for a day skiing. It was splendid, quiet, well pisted and sunny. It was quite worrying to have to report to a ski instructor that he had lost one of his class. We saw this poor little tot, maybe 4 years old, who got left behind the group, then took a turn and went down a different piste from the rest of the class. The tot must have seen a different class of tinies on this piste and thought this was its class, but as it got nearer we could see that it realised its mistake and stopped and looked around, rather forlornly. But there were no other classes in view. It must have been very scary. When I caught up with the instructor and told him what had happened, he skied off rapidly to try and make amends. We hope there was a happy ending.

Thursday was mostly overcast but much warmer; 2 or 3C. The English translation of the local weather forecast always amuses me by stating “mostly cloudy with fleeting sunny spell at times”. Somehow, in the circumstances, spell seems more appropriate than spells. In view of the weather, it was a day for shopping and visiting the launderette in Chedde.

A few years ago skiers would, collectively, use miles of thin elastic cotton every year to hold ski lift passes around their necks. The ski pass was invariably a thin piece of plastic card with a bar code on it. (We have a collection of hundreds of these in the hope that one day they will be historic relics; sorry, valuable historic relics. Any collectors please note the photo below, but I am not interested in “swapsies”.) The cotton elastic made them easily accessible when they needed to be placed in the reader at the ski-lift barrier. At best, this was a bit of a faff. At worst, it led to facial injuries and pain as the card slipped from one’s gloved fingers, catapulting the viciously thin plastic into one’s cold face.

Thankfully, but probably not for elastic cotton manufacturers, those days are passed and we have been using “hands-free” lift passes in Chamonix for several years. These credit-card sized, plastic cards are remotely sensed by the barriers at ski lifts and allow you entry, provided the pass is valid. Being curious as to how these work, I have done some research. The technology involved is RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification). There is a microchip embedded in the card, which is known as a tag. (Tags can be so small that, in another application, they have been attached to live ants and used to monitor their movements.) The ski lift barriers contain a tag reader and this transmits radio waves which provide the power for the tag. So, the card doesn’t need a battery.  The tag contains a digital photo image of the rightful owner, to counter theft and fraudulent use, as well as data on the type of pass, and time and region of validity. I guess the readers can and do collect information on who goes where and when.

I was interested to read that, in some ski resorts in the US, the information available from the use of these cards is being provided back to the skiers. In one scheme, called EpicMix, skiers can log onto a website and monitor how many lifts they have used and when and what vertical distance they have skied. According to the leader-board for the 2011-12 season, the ‘leader’ has had 75 days on the mountain, taken 1642 lifts and skied over 3 million vertical feet! Is this obsessive?

This seems a clever added-value service, and one I hope Chamonix might emulate soon.

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2 Responses to Domaine de Balme, RFID and lift passes

  1. Evan Dobbs says:

    Giggles at the pass slapping you in the face like a wet kipper… I seem to recall this was however elleviated by the use of pully based retractable tension cords that replaced the slippery elastic based cards…

    I find the US system for tracking your movements over the day exceptional, certainly is a market for this in other ski resorts, you could even have a proposed website where an additional premium is paid to show people where you have skied, users would be able to check up on their kids if left to their own accord or ski training staff could ensure a training schedule is being adhered to. I find this technology impressive, yes to a certain extent “big brother” but also a great tool for groups Apres ski… One day when all of the runs on mountains have been mapped on to a computer, ie ski runs recorded on video cameras and uploaded onto a server you could effectively get home cook dinner then experience the same runs you did earlier in the day admittedly not the same routes and may not be in the same conditions but still a thought… and rather than vertical distance notification you could also incorporate physical distance skied…

  2. Mrs D. says:

    I’d be interested to know how much the EpicMix skier has paid for its season skipass. That’s some motoring!
    Also – does it go home at night? How many pairs of skis will it wear out this season?
    Is it aware of the nutritional qualities of tartiflette, or its US equivalent? Is it a professional? What boots does it wear? How many resorts does it visit? Does it wear a helmet? Whose skis does it ride? Does it chew Fishermen’s Friends? Does it have time to wash its socks every day?
    It’s the little things that matter to me…

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