High-Tech Skiing

With their spandex bodysuits, oversize goggles and neon skis, skiers already look high-tech, ready made for the millennium. But fashion isn't all that's futuristic on the slopes this season. Here's some of the new stuff you'll see:

The "Ski Key" is a watch-size black box (worn on a Velcro wristband) that contains a microchip. It's in use at California's Northstar at Tahoe, where scanners on chairlifts keep track of vertical miles skied. Like members of airline frequent-flier clubs, Ski Keyers win prizes for accumulated mileage. Skiers can charge lift fees and meals directly to the Key, and it even alerts them to phone messages so the office is never more than a mogul away.

Man-made snow is nothing new, but now there's a higher-tech version. Scientists have discovered that a protein on the cell wall of common bacteria hastens the formation of frost. When the bacteria are freeze-dried and sterilized you get Snomax Snow Inducer, white pellets that are then added to standard snow-making pipes. Now in use internationally, the pellets make 50 percent more snow with the same amount of water, and resort managers say it produces a lighter, drier flake.

At Colorado's Beaver Creek and Vail resorts, beginners and kids no longer have to struggle up the "bunny slope" sideways. Now they can hop on a "Magic Carpet," a 150-foot-by-4-foot conveyor belt that ferries them (standing on a rubber-grip surface) to the top. Some folks like it so much, says ski-school supervisor John Alderson, that "going down the hill is just an excuse to get on the ride again."

The 140 Skyeship gondolas at Vermont's Killington resort are heated to a balmy 50 degrees and equipped with stereo systems. The gondolas move at a brisk 14 miles per hour, delivering skiers to the top in about 12 minutes. This may be the one innovation that's not appreciated: who wants to get out that soon?

High-Tech Skiing | News