I am a competitive person, which will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows and loves me.
My story has always been that I am only competitive with myself. However, a new obsession with Whistler Blackcomb’s WB+ program has forced me to face the fact that my competitive streak extends to complete strangers – albeit strangers who share my passion for the mountains.
Whistler Blackcomb’s RFID technology tracks resort-users’ every movement through chip readers installed on all lifts, in Whistler Blackcomb retail stores and at on-hill restaurants. Ordinarily, I recoil from these blatant consumer-tracking techniques. While they may be in place to enhance my user experience by improving efficiencies and creating products I will enjoy, I have yet to embrace the invasive nature of technology that, in this case, extends to knowing what time I hit the slopes, who I ski with, what equipment I own and what I eat at lunch and après.
However, in a brilliant marketing manoeuvre, Whistler Blackcomb has turned its data capture scheme into a competitive game that has transformed me into a willing supplier of personal information.
WB+ encourages users to aim for more than 50 virtual badges – ranked from easy (green) to most difficult (black) – as rewards for alpine achievements. The badges recognize accomplishments such as enduring on exceptionally windy days, riding beginner chairs and skiing on well-known and noted holidays – like Pi Day (March 14), winter solstice and your birthday.
The program also tracks your overall vertical, how many lifts you’ve ridden over the season, the number of days you’ve skied and more. It helps you set up personal groups to challenge your friends and, most addictive for me, it gives personal, up-to-the-minute placing on the resort vertical leaderboard.
My partner-in-adventure-and-all-things-domestic rolls his eyes and laughs as I religiously check my stats on the WB+ app just before falling to asleep at the end of every ski day. In an expression of unconditional love and support, he has also been known to indulge my vertical goals. Last weekend he was my travel companion on a marathon, 26-lift adventure to earn the coveted (black level) “Mega Day” badge that involved riding every lift on Whistler Blackcomb in a single day.
With his help, after 22 days on the mountains so far this season I am ranked 1,467 on the leaderboard, with 46 badges to my name – far surpassing my grand total of three badges earned during a momentous Grade 6 year in Girl Guides.
I am shamelessly determined to up my WB+ game as the season goes on. And I am not the only one obsessed with stats. Last season much of Whistler Valley was fixated on finding “Vertbag,” the illusive and prolific skier who logged the most vertical (two million metres and almost 4,000 chairlift rides) on WB+. Her identity was eventually revealed in this excellent article in the Pique News Magazine some six months after the mountains closed for the season. Now there’s a “Beat Vertbag” badge up for grabs!
I also heard from a reliable source that a passholder booked an appointment with some senior managers at Whistler Blackcomb and presented a PowerPoint on the best strategy to achieve the Mega Day badge. Clearly he’s a much more magnanimous competitor than me. My winning strategy will only be shared with the closest of friends, and even then, under the (Snow) Cone of Silence.
What I am willing to offer up to Whistler Blackcomb are a few suggestions for more badges. How about a “Frustration” badge for surviving the busiest day on the mountain? Or why not install a card reader at the medical clinic to reward those whose season is cut short with an “Injury” badge to appease their suffering?
I actually considered suggesting a badge for most backcountry ski days until I realized that the unparalleled quiet, magnificent views and endless powder that await me beyond the ski area boundaries surpass any digital reward I could possibly earn.
Perhaps it’s not quite time for an intervention.