Aspen skiers can expect better Wi-Fi connections at select sites this winter | AspenTimes.com

Aspen skiers can expect better Wi-Fi connections at select sites this winter

Once upon a time, skiers hit the slopes to get away from it all and leave life behind. Not anymore.

Many skiers and snowboarders want to immediately post selfies surfing the powder on Instagram. They want to check Facebook to see what their friends are up to. They want to download emails and check to see who's playing at Belly Up. There will probably come a day when they use their smartphone to purchase one more ride up the Silver Queen Gondola on a heavenly powder day.

Aspen Skiing Co. officials have bemoaned for years their customers' inability to stay connected with their mobile devices while on the slopes.

"There are vast parts of our ski areas that have no connectivity," said John Lilley, Skico vice president of technology. "If you asked around in town, 'How's the Wi-Fi on Aspen Mountain?' The reply would be, 'Oh, it's crap.'"

“Most people expect connectivity as a utility.”

— Skico’s John Lilley

So Skico is doing something about it. Fiber optic cables were run along the infrastructure of most major chairlifts and gondolas at its four ski areas this summer. It's the first in a series of steps designed to expand the Wi-Fi footprint.

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"It's north of a seven-figure investment," Lilley said.

The investment will pay immediate dividends this winter at a few high-traffic areas — Sundeck on Aspen Mountain and Elk Camp Restaurant and Two Creeks base area at Snowmass Ski Area, Lilley said. The fiber optic cable was put into trenches and routed to the buildings.

Those areas will have high-quality connections that many people take for granted these days.

"People expect it," Lilley said. "Most people expect connectivity as a utility."

The longer-term vision is to provide "robust guest Wi-Fi" at all on-mountain restaurants and important gathering places, Lilley said.

The fiber optic network provides the bandwidth Skico needs for better internal communication between its employees as well as the expanded Wi-Fi customers now demand. It also will allow Skico to resell some of the excess capacity to cellular service providers so that cell coverage improves.

Skico will reap more than happy customers from expanding Wi-Fi connectivity. The ski industry realizes happy customers sharing video of Uncle Bob skiing the powder or images of Aunt Vera outdoors at the Sundeck on a bluebird day are effective marketing.

The ski industry also realizes that supplying Wi-Fi presents opportunities to learn more about customers, including their email addresses, so that special marketing offers can be pitched.

For the second consecutive winter, Skico plans to release an upgraded app that has trail maps and resort information customers need.

But for those skiers and snowboarders who don't give a hoot about posting selfies and checking emails on a ski day, take heart. The coverage won't extend much past the Sundeck and Elk Camp Restaurant or the other places that eventually get added.

"Wi-Fi has a limited broadcast range," Lilley said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

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