At Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado, hungry skiers and snowboarders can use an app to track down the “Taco Beast,” a roving food truck set atop a Snowcat. By the end of this ski season, they’ll be able to send taco and beer orders right from the chairlift.
Steamboat and its Taco Beast are part of a larger effort by parent company Alterra, which offers access to two dozen ski resorts through its Ikon pass, to bring tech to the slopes.
“You can use the app to map your day skiing, track total vertical feet, and see where your friends are on the mountains,” says Rob Perlman, COO and President of Steamboat.
Meanwhile, Alterra and its competitor, Vail Resorts, have dabbled with other tech-driven tricks to improve the mountain experience. These include smart passes that can be scanned through clothing, and which can be read by on-slope cameras that offer skiers and boarders photos of their day. Other innovations involve using tech to help customers navigate lift and concession lines, and manage traffic flow on busy lift days.
The new tech reflects the resorts’ desire to improve the customer experience, but it’s also part of an urgent effort by the ski industry to stave off decline. While abundant snow in the 2018-19 season produced 59 million visits to U.S. slopes—the fourth best total since 1979-80—the reality is the number of participants in the sport is tapering. The number of active skiers and snowboarders last eclipsed 10 million in 2011 and the number is now much closer to 9 million.
The challenges facing the ski industry include shifting leisure habits as well as high prices—single day tickets for a premium resort now cost almost $200. Equally pressing is climate change, which threatens to shorten or eliminate the ski season, and aging baby-boomers, who long made up the nucleus of the sport but are now increasingly too fragile to pursue it.
In this context, app-based orders from a Taco Beast and other gimmicks may help slow skiing’s decline but are unlikely to stop it.
A version of this article appears in the November 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “Out of the Bay, Not Looking Back.”
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