Commentary

Checking in on skiing, running apps

Updated: September 9, 2010, 8:18 PM ET
By Ryan Corazza | Special to ESPN.com

In 2010, we've seen an increased emphasis on geolocation technology in the sports world.

[+] EnlargeSkier
EyesWideOpen/Getty ImagesVail's new app allows skiers to track where and when you skied and the vertical feet covered.

Teams and leagues are just starting to scratch the surface of check-in functionality for business-minded gains, while Facebook Places projects to financially benefit teams, leagues and athletes alike.

But away from the stadium and out of the professional sports landscape, GPS technology has trickled into the recreational sports world as well, providing amateur athletes a way to track their every move.

On Aug. 30, Vail Resorts announced an application called EpicMix, which will launch this fall for the ski season.

The app -- which will be available for free for the Android and iPhone, and has a Web-based dashboard -- allows skiers to track their activity across five mountains: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly.

Stats such as where you rode and vertical feet, along with days skied can be tracked, and you can earn pins and collect points along the way.

Of course, there's a social-media hook: Users can connect to Facebook and Twitter to share activity with followers and friends.

The app actually doesn't run on GPS technology, but RFID (Radio Frequency identification) scanners are at the base of every lift, and season passes and PEAK lift tickets have the RF technology built in, tracking your moves down the slopes.

Other ski-themed apps actually do run on GPS and provide similar functionality.

AccuTerra by Intermap offers an iPhone app for the mountains in Aspen, one which allows users to track and record progress throughout the day on trails, and share locations via Facebook.

It's also free, but doesn't quite offer the community experience EpicMix does.

"EpicMix takes the fun of playing and sharing online and marries it with the very real experience of skiing and riding," said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts. "EpicMix has the ability to track your physical accomplishments, similar to applications like Nike+ and then combine it with the community experience of location-based social media, similar to applications like Gowalla."

Speaking of Nike+, the company released a new $1.99 iPhone app for it this week, which simplifies the product that's been around for runners and walkers since 2006.

Originally, Nike+ provided an accelerometer that you'd attach to your shoe, and it communicated with certain versions of the iPod to track distance.

But utilizing newer versions of the iPhone's and iPod Touch's GPS technology and built-in accelerometer, there's now nothing to attach to your shoe.

Simply run with the iPhone or iTouch, and you can track time, distance and number of calories burned. It also visually maps and tracks each run, which provides details of your pace at certain points along the way.

The app also ups the ante in that motivational messages from celebrities and pro athletes can be peppered in along the way, and a "Challenge Me" feature can be utilized to push you to run farther and faster than before.

You can share your runs on Nikeplus.com to engage in a community environment.

[+] EnlargeLance Armstrong
NikeNike's iPhone app for running includes motivational messages from celebrities, or if you're Lance Armstrong, you just do it.

Another app, iMap My Run, also utilizes the iPhone's GPS technology to track runs, but doesn't offer as many bells and whistles as Nike+.

Tracking distances works well for skiing and running, but on a basketball or volleyball court, softball field or bowling alley, it doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense or provide any real utility for an athlete.

But local rec leagues and gyms would be wise to utilize check-in geolocation technology.

If professional teams and leagues are projected to offer incentives to fans who check-in and promote their brand, local gyms could offer membership discounts after a certain amount of check-ins have been reached by a member, and any recreational sports league dependent upon sign-ups for revenue could offer similar discounts or deals.

No matter the specifics, GPS and geolocation technology are proving to offer a wide range of possibilities for both the amateur and professional sports world.

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.

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