Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

An Epic(Mix) Day on the Slopes in Colorado

The activity of skiing goes back a long way in human history. Wikipedia tells me that there are cave drawings dating back to about 5,000 B.C., depicting people on skis. And pieces of wood, thought to have been primitive skis used for transportation and to help hunt wild game, have been found in Greenland dating as far back as the 10th or 11th century.

I didn’t know any of that before I took my first skiing lesson a few days ago. To make a long story short, I fell three times, didn’t break any bones, and had a fantastic time on the slopes in Beaver Creek, Colo.

I also know that I skied a total of 2,830 vertical feet.

What tells me so precise a number is a Web service called EpicMix created by Vail Resorts, of which Beaver Creek is a part. The service tracked my skiing activity and awarded me a set of different badges, in a manner reminiscent of Foursquare. Since it was my first time, I earned a “First Run” and a “Toe Dipper” badge, both for first timers, plus one for having visited Beaver Creek itself. It also tracked how many times I rode up the various lifts.

Central to it are ski pass cards that are enabled with RFID tags. When you get on a lift, your tag gets scanned, making your movements trackable. That might strike some as creepy, but it also makes it easy to track your stats throughout the season and over time.

So, if you want to brag about having skied some advanced black diamond-level run, there’s no disputing it. You can just point your doubters to EpicMix. It’s also really social: You can share your stats on Facebook and Twitter, and friends from both networks can easily be added to your list of friends on EpicMix.

There are also pictures. Professional photographers are stationed around the resort snapping photos of skiers in action or between runs. As long as the photographers get a scan of your pass, your photos show up in your EpicMix account, and you can buy a high-quality download for $20. They only caught me once after my lesson was over for a group shot with my patient and mellow instructor Tom Newman and fellow first-time skier, Claire from London, who took the class with me. As you can see from our faces, it’s probably not the last time we’ll be seen with long, flat things attached to our feet.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik