Adapting Aspen Skiing Co.’s app to guests’ requests part of staying up with the times

Skiers on the Silver Queen Gondola use the Skico app to check out the Aspen Mountain map.
David Krause / The Aspen Times

Just about anyone can build and launch an app these days, but trying to stay ahead of the curve and responding to users’ wants can take patience and perseverance.

Earlier this winter season, Aspen Skiing Co. pushed out a new look to its app, and by all accounts it has been well received by the nearly 100,000 people who use it.

Until about five years ago, Skico had a vendor running its app. But when the four-mountain resort decided to take control of its functions and build it in-house, Jess Jacobi and Leah Swan took the wheel “to have more control of the road map and the features down the road,” Jacobi said recently.

In the seasons since, the two have been the driving force to changes and twice-yearly updates to the app. And while the change for this season was more about the look than function, they have put in their time listening to users and adapting to requests. For example, the new background was created in response to those trying to view the app with their goggles on.

“It seems like a bigger update because it’s such a more visual release,” said Swan, Skico’s senior digital product manager for the past three years. “From the backend standpoint, it was all in there, we just made it easier to see with a better background.”

Perhaps one of the more challenging additions was when Swan and Jacobi started to test the vertical feet function, which rolled out for the 2017-18 season.

In the summer of 2016, the pair did initial testing for the vertical by putting in miles on the ground.

“Leah and I kind of tested it that summer and we would hike up and run down to simulate skiing,” said Jacobi, who ran track in college and won a couple of state titles in high school in Fort Collins. “It got a little tricky and a little dangerous. We took the 2016-17 season to test the stats tracking features and launched it in ’17-18.”

It is by far the app’s most used and challenged function. Every season the software for tracking vert is updated.

“People are definitely very diligent about watching it. Some people will have Strava on in the background to make comparisons,” Swan said. “What it comes down to for accuracy is every single device is different. I could have an iPhone10 and Jess could have an iPhone10 but our settings are different. We’re operating in different ways. There’s a lot that depends on the device itself and that’s really where the variance comes from.”

Jacobi, the company’s director of digital marketing, added that to get the best results, users should use the “always allow tracking” option when the notification comes up. And not to worry, with the geofencing set at the resorts boundaries, “it’s not tracking you when you’re walking around your house.”

They said the biggest upgrade came last season when the resort’s loyality program was added and skiers could connect their accounts to the app.

The mapping function, which allows skiers and snowboarders to pull up a mountain map and see exactly where they are, also has been well-received and helpful in a few situations. There have been times when the app was used when someone needed help and the person was able to use the map and the emergency function on the app to alert ski patrol and relay to them a more exact location.

As the cellphone coverage on the mountains improves, the mapping function eventually will allow skiers to find their friends through the map, Jacobi and Swan said.

Another recent update was getting the weather conditions from on-mountain locations at each of the resorts instead of drawing data from the airport. Now, the weather is updated every hour so people have a better idea of how to dress and what to expect.

The next round of upgrades is expected in March, and although they wouldn’t yet reveal what those will be, Swan and Jacobi did hint that it has to do more with the off-the-mountain options.

“What we’ve done to date is lay the foundation to make it easier to do business with us through the app,” Jacobi said. “A big part of that is linking your account and all of your information is synched up.

“We have a pretty long list of enhancements you’ll see over the next few years.”