Last year when I attended Snowcial for the first time, it was on a last minute invite with only two days’ notice. In fact, I had never even heard of the social media conference, which is now in its third year. But this time around, I had a full year to get excited for all the fun to be had.
Sponsored by Vail Resorts, One to One Interactive, Heavenly and Harrah’s, the conference is a four-day mash-up of fun, technology, snow and Tweeting, naturally. Some of my favorite industry pals were there, and it was fun seeing friends I made last year another time.
This year, the actual conference part of the weekend—which lasts for just five hours on the Friday afternoon—had an added travel component. There was a travel panel put on by my pal Johnny Jet; consumer advocate Chris Elliott, of whom I am a long-time fan and was thrilled to finally meet for the first time; and Travel + Leisure online editor Rich Beattie, with whom I had crossed paths at a travel writer happy hour four years ago in New York. The guys had some interesting observations on the future of social media, and Chris got a bit of a backlash from an audience member when he stated: “There are companies like high-end hotels that have no place on Twitter. If you check into a $1000-a-night hotel, you’re going to have your problems taken care of for you. I’m just saying maybe they don’t need to have an active Twitter or Facebook account.”
I understand what he meant, though. I’m in agreement that certain high-end companies shouldn’t necessarily always put themselves out there. If you’re paying top dollar for a place that prides itself on exclusivity, do you actually want them to be all over the Internet, interacting with every Tom, Dick and Harry? Now, I don’t have the money to pay thousands for such exclusive resorts, but if I did, I think I’d probably want them to maintain some air of exclusivity. Do you agree?
Chris and I also approach Twitter similarly. “I use Twitter as a battering ram to get better customer service,” he confessed. “It means different things to everyone.” (See: my recent scuffle with American Airlines, which was finally resolved over Twitter.)
Other online innovators like the CEO of Path, the founder of Gowalla and, of course, MC Hammer also took the stage at one point in the afternoon. Since I very much work in the travel industry and very much don’t work in the tech field, I get a little overwhelmed at such functions when the speakers start talking in acronyms or tech speak that sounds comparable to Klingon as it goes in one ear and out the other. But it’s fun to be a part of and learn a bit more about an industry so foreign to me.
SVV tagged along naturally, while Ella was pampered at the in-laws’ house in Sacramento, though he didn’t participate in any of the actual conference events. We wound up purchasing the Vail Resorts season pass for a steal, which gives us unlimited use of Heavenly, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Northstar, so you better bet we’re going to be up in Tahoe so much this winter, we’ll resemble snowmen by the time April rolls around.
We logged two seven-hour ski days over the weekend, and once we headed back to San Francisco on Sunday, every muscle in my body throbbed. I bought a new helmet from Porters Tahoe just before the conference, as I showed up last year—a total rookie amid a crowd of professional skiers and boarders and resort reps and ski magazine media types—without a helmet only to find that everyone now wears one on the slope after Natasha Richardson’s tragic accident. It makes sense really—why wouldn’t you take the most basic of precautions when engaging in such a risky pastime?—and I definitely feel more confident with something protecting my noggin!
Even better, we ran into my instructor from last year, Patti Vath—aka the Miracle Worker, who made me enamored with skiing and, dare I say, not bad at the sport either—and she offered to ski with me all day Saturday. This enabled SVV to take off to Mott Canyon, an area I’m not yet comfortable with, for the morning while Patti and I conquered much of the mountain and worked on some more advanced techniques like tackling moguls off-piste in the woods—something a year prior I definitely did not think I could do, nor did I think it would ever interest me. Now I say: Bring on the bumps! I cannot stress enough: This woman is a snow goddess. If you’re ever in Heavenly and in need of instruction, please call up the resort and book a lesson with her!
Want to know something else really cool that all the Vail Resorts implemented this ski season? A tracking system to follow your skiing. No, no, it’s not as Big Brother as it may sound, but with the addition of EpicMix, which uses radio frequency technology to scan the chip in your pass every time you board a lift, at the end of the day you can see how many vertical miles you’ve accrued, how many lifts you rode and other such data.
Additionally, similar to Four Square—one app I’ve actually never used, as you’ve got to draw the line somewhere and I’m overwhelmed enough by social media as it is!—you gain pins and can see how you compare on the mountain to other nearby skiers.
It’s a great idea, but there are definitely still bugs to work out. For example, SVV and I each logged about 17,000 vertical feet on the second day, which it tracked, but we skied nearly the same on the first and it tallied our lifetime total as around 20,000. Oh well. I’m sure these problems will be remedied in time. The program was only introduced this season after all.
On Friday night, there was a Hammer concert at Harrah’s South Shore Room. On Saturday night, OK Go took the stage. Now, my friend Matt, SVV and I all got the pleasure of seeing Hammer live last year. I figured since he hasn’t put a whole lot of new material out since then, the concert wouldn’t be that different. As conference participants, Matt and I each got a ticket to both shows, so we swapped: I gave him my Hammer ticket so he and his girlfriend Katy, who missed the show last year, could go on Friday, and SVV and I went to see OK Go rock out on Saturday.
You may wonder what a “YouTube band” does live, eh? I pondered the same prior to the evening. They did roll some of their videos, like the most recent hit “White Knuckles,” in the background while they played, but overall, they were just great performers: They were charismatic, engaging, charming and funny and, most importantly, interacted with the audience. I was surprised to find their show so entertaining, to say the least!