STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - Parents nervous about sending their children off to ski or snowboarding school may fret over the possibility that their kids might be cold or get hurt, but now they no longer need to worry that they'll get lost on the mountain.
Nearly a dozen ski resorts worldwide are starting to use a GPS tracking system for students and instructors called flaik (pronounced like snowflake). A flaik is a small beacon the size of a deck of cards that is strapped to the leg. If a student moves beyond a certain distance from her instructor, it sends out an automatic alert. The distance is set by the ski resort based on the level of the class.
"If we see that a student is not with the rest of their class, we'll call the instructor to resolve the situation," said Paul Reuter, the flaik supervisor at the Steamboat Springs ski resort in Colorado.
During busy times at Steamboat, on a day between Christmas and New Year's for instance, about 10 to 15 of the 800 students will become separated from the 115 instructors, Reuter said. A slower day might have about 300 students, and still somewhere between 1 percent and 2 percent will be located by flaik.
The public can't access the flaik tracking information during the day, but when ski school is over, each student is given a card with a code that will allow him to log into the flaik website. There, parents and kids can view a map, charts and graphs that show where they skied, how long they spent on each run, the difficulty of each trail, their vertical feet, the distance covered, their average speed and their top speed.
Because it's fun to look at the tracking information, Steamboat and Smugglers' Notch in Vermont also rent the flaik to anyone who wants it for $10 a day - including adults who'd like a record of their own day in the snow.
A word of caution: Skiers who go to the flaik website and create an account will see a pull-down menu of more than three dozen ski resorts. Not all of these use the flaik in their ski school programs; some only use them for specific events. As of early 2011, resorts using it in teaching programs include: Steamboat, Winter Park and Copper Mountain in Colorado; Alpine Meadows and Homewood Mountain Resort in California; Smugglers' Notch in Vermont ; Pats Peak in New Hampshire; Mont Tremblant and Whistler-Blackcomb in Canada, and Meribel and Courchevel in France.