Showdown over ski pass technology in Breckenridge

RFID blocker aimed addressing ski pass privacy issues.

Local 17-year instructor says he faced employment ultimatum over his pass-shielding product

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A new device aimed at giving skiers and riders day-to-day control over when their ski passes are tracked electronically has created a few waves in the resort world.

Breckenridge inventor Jon Lawson, who recently started marketing and selling the Ski Pass Defender, was told by Vail Resorts that he would have to give up his association with the product if wanted to return to his Breckenridge ski teaching job for an eighteenth season this winter.

Lawson’s invention is a simple sleeve that lets ski pass holders decide when they want to allow the electronic chip to be scanned. For example, a skier could choose to use the pass only for access to a lift. Or, he could allow all-day tracking, which at some resorts then translates into getting access on vertical footage and other mountain stats that can be shared with friends via social networks like Facebook at Twitter.

That’s the idea of Vail Resorts EpicMix app, publicized several weeks ago as a new product for this season and generally greeted with favorable reviews from the ski press and from skiers eager to share their exploits in the online equivalent of an aprés-ski lounge.

The EpicMix app comes automatically with Vail Resorts pass products, and the company cited privacy concerns when it announced that skiers and riders can choose to opt out of the information-sharing scheme.

Lawson also said he was thinking about data privacy issues and said he simply wanted to give skiers and riders another way to opt out of being tracked all over the mountain.

But Vail Resorts, which declined an opportunity to comment on this story, apparently believes that the Ski Pass Defender doesn’t mesh with its corporate vision for the EpicMix.

“Last week I got an e-mail from Pat’s secretary inviting me to come in and talk about it,” Lawson said, referring to Breckenridge VP and chief operating officer Pat Campbell.

Lawson said when he went to the ski resort office to discuss the issue, there was someone from the human resources offices holding his personnel file — which perceived as an attempt at intimidation.

In a second meeting with resort officials, Lawson got the ultimatum — either opt out of his business or opt out of his employment with Vail Resorts.

He chose to quit the resort to pursue his new business, saying it was an easy decision after the second conversation with resort officials.

“I went in again this week and Pat said the product is in conflict with their initiative. She gave me a choice of either divesting my ownership interest in the business or not working for Breckenridge,” he said.

Lawson described a few details of the conservation, saying that Campbell questioned him about the nature of his feelings about corporations, asking him whether he had something against The Man, or against corporate America.

Based on Lawson’s own post on the Ski Pass Defender website, he doesn’t.

“I don’t have anything against Ski Corporations using these technologies, and their “initiatives” to grow revenues and decrease expenses.  But I think there are enough people who prefer NOT to be watched and cataloged by a big brother to warrant $16 of protection,” he wrote Sept. 21. “It is simply a way to give the skier or rider the freedom to choose to be tracked or untracked from day to day or run to run. And we now know where Vail Resorts stands on that point.  ‘You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black.’ ”

Lawson thinks the ski company will use to information for targeted marketing at some point down the road, and also believes the RFID technology could be used to enforce on-mountain speed limits. He also says he has some expertise in the area of identity theft risk management, and claims the RFID data from ski passes could easily be skimmed in the ski area environment.

At least a few skiers and riders apparently agree with him. He’s already sold more than 50 of the devices in just a few days.

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One thought on “Showdown over ski pass technology in Breckenridge

  1. I saw this post when he first put it up. I never though it would draw such a controversy since he makes a good point about identity skimming. Who knows what steps thieves are willing to take on the slopes these days.

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