Virtual ski reps, smartphone resort guides and even ski instructor apps – welcome to the new dawn of digital skiing, says Neil Pedoe…
Given the always-on, always-connected and ever-cheaper nature of mobile technology, it was inevitable that even snow-bound mountains would succumb to the digital revolution.
If the UK’s largest ski operator is to be believed, even the way we plan, book and experience our ski holidays has just undergone a complete digital makeover – some might say a ‘digital takeover’.
This winter, Crystal Ski Holidays will put 700-odd iPad tablets loaded with custom-built software into the hands of its overseas staff, and potentially change your ski holidays experience forever and – they hope – for the better.
Crystal Ski’s technological drive intends to deliver a whole new dimension of real time personalised customer service, via the power of mobile telecommunications and social media.
This will begin even before you’ve left home, with Crystal customers given the option of a video conference call.
During the call, the customer will be able to discuss all their holiday’s details and worries, from childcare, to catering and accommodation. In some resorts, even ski hire details can be taken, so pre-ordered kit can be waiting on arrival.
Digitally connected customers can also look forward to online info packs with in-depth resort advice and tips, as well as up-to-date snow conditions and lift reports sent to their mobile devices.
There’s an app for that…
At the same time as announcing its new digital customer service campaign Crystal also detailed the imminent version of its new Ski Explorer app, available to anyone for free download on Android and iOS.
There are, of course already many ski apps available, with everything from self-coaching video apps to ski run tracking and analysis tools, and piste guides. Several resorts, especially in North America, have their own apps too, such as Park City and Whistler Blackcomb, with real-time updates on snow conditions, lift status, run conditions and weather, as well as run tracking and social media integration.
Crystal’s app includes many of the same features, including the ability to track and log your ski runs – without a data or even a network signal – hence no data roaming charges.
Possibly the most interesting new feature of the app is its Find Your Friends function which will let you see where your registered friends and family are on a resort map – be it on your slope, in the summit bar or even still in bed. You’ll then be able to message or call them to meet up, drink up or get their lazy bones up, depending on where you can see them on-screen.
The app will also allow you to message Crystal’s resort staff with any problems or queries, in theory 24/7, as well as arrange online meetings with them via FaceTime and Google Hangout.
It’s a smart move sure to be followed by others in the industry. After all, so many of us are already fully engaged in social media on smart phones – you could say this has been a long time coming.
How to keep your phone (and your phone bill) safe this season…
With data roaming charges not due to be banned until December 2015, the one danger of using your smartphone throughout your holiday is that you might rack up a huge phone bill.
According to Moneysavingexpert.com, heavy use of the web abroad can cost £100s. Even though prices have been forced down, standard data roaming charges in Europe can cost 20p/MB in Europe and as much as £8/MB in the rest of the world. To put this in perspective, a 30-minute TV programme might use up 500MB – which could cost £4,000…
Get ready to bundle
The solution is to buy data bundles from your current provider, which vary from free to 16 countries with mobile network 3, to £3 a day for up to 50MB with Orange and EE, £1.99 a day for unlimited data with O2 and £3 a day to use your normal UK allowance with Vodafone.
Beware that while EU legislation states providers must warn you when you’ve used approximately £50 of data in a month when roaming – and then cut you off unless you agree to exceed the limit – buying a data bundle might automatically opt you out.
Use Wi-Fi hotspots
Many cafes, bars and hotels have free Wi-Fi in their public areas. To find them in your resort you’re best doing some pre-trip research.
Switch it off
Short of turning your phone off altogether, you need to check its settings are protecting you abroad. First, turn off ‘data roaming’. Then turn off automatic app updates, set your email service to not download attachments and to manually retrieve emails.
Keep it safe
Smartphones and water are not a clever combo, so you need a case or drybag which you can carry and operate it in. The BeachBuoy Waterproof Case is a good budget option. The simple but effective BSI standard tested case is 100% water-proof and comes with metal eyelets and a neck lanyard. £14.95
For maximum protection and battery life, take a look at a hard case like the SLXtreme iPhone case. Water-proof up to 2 metres submersion, with a 2,500 mAh built-in battery and a solar charger, the Snow Lizard SLXtreme can also help your iPhone survive up to a 2 metre drop. From £129.99 for iPhone 4/4s