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Hundred Days – New RFID Gates at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort



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12/17/13 – RFID and What It Means to You

Written By: Heather Cosby

By now, you’ve probably either heard about or passed through one of the new RFID gates at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification isn’t a new technology. It’s been around since the ‘70’s and is used to track library books, children’s school ID cards, even Department of Defense packages. Ski resorts around the world have opted in on RFID technology for a myriad of reasons. Places like Mount Hood, Vail, Alta and Snowbird have adopted the technology in an effort to decrease lift line waits and cut-down on the age-old “theft of services” issue that has gone hand in hand with ski resorts since areas began charging for mountain access.

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Jackson Hole has installed 16 gates at its five base area lifts including Teewinot, Apres Vous, Eagle’s Rest, the Gondola and the Tram.

Though I was a bit cynical in the beginning, I have to admit, the system is pretty slick. Your season pass, or the new JCard, replaced the paper ticket/wicket combination and has a built-in microchip and wire antenna. A magnet in the card inducts a current in the wire, creating an electromagnetic field that allows the gate to read the information stored on the embedded chip. When you pass through the magic gates, the information stored is read by the gate and presto, the gates open. No need to take your glove off and dig around, trying pull your pass out for the pesky hand scanner anymore.

Although the gates run via the internet, they have the capacity to capture and store data, so if there is a snafu or power outage, the customer never knows the difference.

For most effective scanning, your pass should be worn in the ‘strike zone’, should have its own pocket, and should be kept away from cell phones, ipods and anything metallic… so leave your tinfoil crafted items at home, or at least put them in another pocket. And don’t go punching a bigger hole in your pass to fit your key ring, it will sever the antenna and render your pass useless.

The RFID operates at different frequencies than avalanche beacons or pacemakers, so no worries there either.

If you’re thinking “well now it will be easier than ever to use my roommate’s pass, think again. Once you clear the gateway, you’ll notice gate attendants studying laptops or iPads. As the gate captures your information, your pass photo and name are presented on the screen and the attendant is able to see pretty easily who is who and who isn’t. Instead of fighting with the incessant no-go beep of the hand scanner, the attendant is now checking out profiles.

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In years past, if your pass was confiscated due to another person using it, you could get it back by paying a modest hundred bucks or so. Not this year, if your pass is taken, it’s gone… forever. You are welcome to purchase another one, at regular season prices. And so it would seem that, for the most part, the way of the green/friend/bro pass will be more of a thing of the past as well.

I, like many others, thought the new system would eliminate liftie jobs. However, to the contrary, the new system has created new jobs at the resort, utilizing two separate departments of lift operators and gate attendants, as well as a dedicated team of RFID managers/gurus. Lifties now have more time to assist people with loading. And while the task of screen-staring may seem daunting for the gate attendants, the department procedures utilize a fast paced rotation as well as circulation through all five lifts at the base, so these folks get a chance to ski more of the mountain during their shifts instead of being stuck at one lift all season.

The RFID does have its limitations. It won’t track your vertical, so stick with the JH Tapped app for that.


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