Today we talk to Flaik and see how they produce a positive safety message for ski school parents.

Originally launched at Steamboat Resort and Copper Mountain in November 2008, uses its proprietary tracking, web and data analytic tools to help resorts deliver exceptional guest experiences in ski school. From providing peace of mind to parents, to reducing instructor-student separation times from hours to minutes, Flaik helps resorts see and understand what is happening on their mountain – live.

Welcome to the Medic52 to webinar, this month we’re talking to Flaik about safety in ski schools. How to keep students safer and really improve that ski school experience.

Duncan (Founder, Medic52): I’d like to introduce Steve, Steve is the CEO of Flaik. G’day Steve, how you doing?

Steve (CEO, Flaik): Morning. Good, yourself?

Duncan: Good thank you, not bad at all. Not bad at all. So Steve you’re in Colorado right?

Steve: That’s it yeah, down in what was sunny Boulder a week ago, but now we’re definitely getting into the start of the season that’s for sure.

Duncan: Alright, so the weather’s coming in that’s good. So tell us a little bit about Flaik and what it is you guys do for ski resorts?

Steve: Sure. So we at a base level provide GPS tracking for ski schools. We track all the kids and instructors in about 13, 14 resorts throughout North America and a couple in Europe, providing real time data as to where the instructors and students are at any point in time. And then throughout the day if there’s a separation incident, for example a kid goes down the wrong run or sometimes decides to go down the wrong run, then they can be looked up online and reconnected pretty quickly. So It’s essentially we provide peace of mind for parents and we help resorts deliver a duty of care in making their schools as safe as possible.

Duncan: So you guys started what, back in 2008 with Steamboat and Copper Mountain, right?

Steve: That’s correct, yeah.

Duncan: And so where else is Flaik in operation now?

Steve: So yeah, from 2008 we then expanded out through a lot of resorts that were part of Intrawest at the time which were Copper, sorry WoodPark, Whistler, Mt Tremblant and then and that had been operating at the places Big White. Smugglers Notch, Angel Fire. Worked with European snow sports over in Verbier and Zermatt and Deer Valley over in Utah. So we’ve got quite a spread, SugarLoaf up in Maine is our latest resort that’s coming on board this season. And yeah, it’s an interesting business and we work across the board and in so many different areas that it makes life interesting. You know, the weather that we deal with in Whistler for example is like the four seasons in one day where Mont Tremblant gets bloody cold and Colorado’s sort of a good mix in between. So making our equipment bullet proof for all those situations has been extremely tough.

Duncan: Yeah, technology and battery life in the cold is an issue, right?

Steve: That’s right. I mean you know, hardware in general in ski resorts doesn’t, doesn’t mix that well. I mean we started, when we were first started doing RMB for the company we started building networks and putting antennas up. And I remember the first season at Boulder we had an antenna up on a, on a chair lift with a meter and a half of ice on them. It’s fair to say it didn’t really work that well. So it’s, yeah it’s always been a challenge and we spent a lot of time over the last several years developing hardware making sure that it works in the, in the environment. And I think we’re now in our fourth generation device as well. So it’s continual evolution as we try to make it the best we can.

Duncan: Yeah. So tell us a bit about why you set Flaik up in the first place? Like how did that come about?

Steve: It was basically a stupid idea to start with. You know, a friend of mine had this idea he wanted to track himself and his brother down the ski slopes and see who was the best skier. And so it’s, I was let’s say young and naive at the time and thought yeah it sounds like a good idea and so we, that’s basically what we did. We took that idea and started looking at that business and the people rented it out for 5 bucks a day and all that sort of stuff. Did some amazing spreadsheets that said that made sense and away we went. But it turns out that nobody was really interested in that sort of concept of the, yeah there’s a very small percentage of people that really care about their stats. Skiing is one of those things where you go out and enjoy it. And so we pushed on, managed to get people to give us money and then eventually got to the point where we had this technology and bumped into a lady at a conference who was from Steamboat, and we got connected with Steamboat and they were looking for a live tracking system for their ski school, but had a RFID solution in place that would basically track a kid as they got on a chairlift, got off a chairlift and a couple of points in between. Which is great and the RFID technology is great for that in a theme park where you got a constrained area, but on a ski resort it’s near on useless. So we came in, we demonstrated the technology, we tracked the ski school director as he drove out of town, drove back into town to pick up something he forgot and then drove off again. So it was a pretty good demonstration and then we sort of just went from there.

Duncan: Awesome. So Steve, obviously this came around with regards to like you say, that kind of marrying of events, you met the guys from Steamboat and you started to talk about ski schools. So the, I think you just said, the primary advantage is actually for parents really it’s peace of mind knowing that their kid is out there and they are kind of attached to the instructor.

Steve: Yeah that’s right. I mean you know, safety and peace of mind is definitely the core of the product. It’s where we started and it’s always fundamental to everything we do. We don’t compromise that. But we have definitely expanded upon the product as we’ve over the last several years, I mean. And more natural extensions too because you know, as we were tracking the kids throughout the day we were capturing the entire location about which runs they did, how fast they were going all that sort of stuff. So they could actually then start to review that at the end of the day see where they did, how they were progressing and so forth. And then that led into the creation of a whole bunch of other things around the, okay well now they’re coming to relive their day so wouldn’t it be great if they could provide feedback on their lesson.

So we introduced a survey piece to that and the resorts that we work with they went from collecting a couple of hundred surveys to several thousand surveys through our system just as a, it was easy, people would come, there’s a hook for them to come to the website, they complete a survey and away they go. And then we got surveys and we got customised emails that can go out to engage the parents, and then we introduced the badges and the offers. So it sort of you know, we went down two angles, one was a guest engagement piece to help ski schools continually connect with the guest because I think that’s really important. We should try to create lifelong skiers is they got to feel that you’re paying attention, that you want them back and that you’re doing everything that you can to make that a really positive experience. And at the same time we’re going down sort of the administration route as well of taking the data that we had in terms of creating digital class lists and then we turn that into things like payroll reports to help with the administration side of things.

They’ve gone from the instructor and then you get reconnected within 5 minutes

So it’s been a very interesting journey as we started with that original hook that got the parents really excited about peace of mind, we got the ski schools with this new tool that has saved a whole bunch of time in terms of kids get disconnected, that happens, it’s in most cases it’s no one’s fault. You know, ski resorts are just a very big area and when you’re dealing with beginners or people that don’t know the mountain then it’s really easy to get disconnected. So we’ve just made it extremely simple. You search for somebody by name or you look at the alerts to see how far they’ve gone from the instructor and then you get reconnected within 5 minutes, I think that is a huge advantage for a school because they can spend more time focusing on the lesson, more time teaching. And they’re not only disconnection not only effect that single student and instructor, I mean the whole group becomes effected. You know, the whole group has to ski to the bottom of a chairlift, wait for instructions and then figure out how they’re going to get reconnected with that one student. So when you’re paying 100, 120 plus dollars for a lesson and you’re taking half an hour out of that lesson, that’s a pretty substantial amount of time, amount of value. And we like to think Flaik is a good tool that allows us to minimise that problem.

Duncan: Yeah, it’s really interesting. Like you say, it started just from tracking the kids and making sure they don’t get separated. And there’s value in that, like you say, in the value of the lesson, of the peace of mind, but that it’s kind of grown from there because you now know where the instructors have been, what they’ve been up to when they’re in and out. And you’ve got now a suite of tools that helps you actually manage the ski school as well.

Steve: Yeah, that’s correct. It’s been great for that and you know, we’ve had the odd occasion I suppose where instructors have reconsidered about the big brother approach.

Steve: To be honest it’s probably half a dozen times that is really concerning. A lot to start with, but generally the argument is that nobody has the time to bother looking at everybody’s performance or everybody’s tracks. They’re only concerned when something abnormal happens. So there are definitely cases where instructors have been caught out going on runs that they shouldn’t of and terrain that they shouldn’t of, of splitting up their class when they shouldn’t of, but that’s a very small majority, very small, very small piece of it. And a lot of instructors I think just the benefits far outweigh sort of any, any negative connotation from it. I mean we’ve tracked I think nearly 4 million instructors and students since we launched and had very, very few complaints.

Duncan: Yes, yeah I know that ski patrollers for example don’t particularly liked being tracked either. So it’s interesting to hear how that’s, how that’s progressed. So, I mean naturally something, a system like this there’s clearly a bunch of software that’s involved with it as well, hardware as well. So I can’t imagine that the cost is kind of an easy one to, to get over for a ski school or from finance department. How does that kind of roll?

Steve: Yeah, it’s always an interesting discussion. The safety’s always hard to put a value on. You know, when you get down to it it’s if you take the our worst case scenario is a kid gets lost and is separated for hours, in the real worst case scenario obviously there’s something, you know, a fatality happens for example. Which is pretty rare in ski school, but you know, those things do happen where kids can get separated for hours. So you start talking about the value of well what’s a negative guest, negative guest experience and it can start to do some numbers that fall out from that. And you start to talk about the guest feedback books that we have and survey responses and the tools that we have to notify instructors of a bad experience or directors of a bad experience.

So we go through multi layers of approach in terms of justifying the value and try to boil it down to numbers. There’s a lot of intangible benefits with the program that yeah, any finance director has sometimes a lot of trouble, a lot of trouble with. Just in the pure number of the pure number crunching and getting it through, but you know, we found that obviously when resorts use it then it sticks around. And we’ve been fairly successful I think in making it fairly easy. And so you know, you get the one fee and that includes everything and service and support and integration and you name it, if it breaks we fix it type deal. So it’s, it’s a lot about you, I think you got to if you’re going to charge a high price you have to treat people well. And history says that we’ve done that pretty well particularly as we introduce new features new features as they come into our ski school product for example just free of charge.

Badges is a great example where ski schools get access to badges just as an upgrade that we put in place. So yeah, it’s definitely it’s pricey we acknowledge that and, but at the same time when you’re talking about a quality product that needs to work in this particular environment I mean you talk about Mt Tremblant where minus 20, minus 30 with wind chill you want something that’s robust. And you don’t want something where somebody’s compromised on the technology, on the battery life in order to make it a little bit cheaper for you. So that’s sort of where we play is, is making sure that what we put on the hill works and that’s the important thing.

Duncan: I mean there’s benefit here for the parents, for the ski school, I think that picture’s very clear. It occurs to me that there should be some benefit for the resort as a whole to be able to say look we use Flaik, we’ve got your kids in the safest possible hands because we know where they are. Do you find that that flows on into that, into that marketing realm as well, and the resorts are finding benefit there too?

Steve: Look, it’s definitely been separated in the past I think. The marketing departments have operated independently at ski school. And, and for a large part ourselves, we’ve been so focused on our partners in the ski schools that we tend to not step outside of that either. You know, we’re very much about, we’re very operationally focused let me put it that way. So we come in and we understand about the process flows and getting kids on the hill quickly and making sure that you can, anyone can use the software and all this sort of stuff. But we’ve never really crossed over into talking about Flaik to the end user, we sort of left that to the resorts. And they have typically not pushed it as, as a big a benefit as they could. You know, I think it is great I mean I got 2 kids there. My youngest, oldest sorry is 3 and we’re going to put him in lessons this year and there’s definitely a big advantage where you’ve got a couple of resorts to pick from, particularly at ***Front Range***(17:25) here that anyone who is doing the most they can to make sure that they know where your kid is at any point in time. You know, that’s a big advantage and I think the resorts that we work with should, should be playing that up and that’s something that we’re, we’re working with them on this, this year. And definitely trying to, to push that out because I think particularly like Copper Winter Park, Steamboat, well that’s pretty competitive here against Vale and the Colorado region I think it’s a great advantage to push the art of tracking that Vale has, there’s parts of what we do, but it definitely doesn’t have the granularity of that’s where that student is at that particular point in time or they have now been separated from their instructor for 15 minutes and this is where the instructor is, this is where the student is. I think that single bit it’s, it’s I don’t want to overstate it, but that’s, that’s the important part of it is you know where they are. And everything else is great, you know, badges, surveys, emails, we have a review day, it’s all great, but what it boils down to I think is that live location and being able to transmit that and anybody who needs their location can know it really quickly.

Duncan: And so from the guest point of view I mean when they come in for registration at ski school I’m assuming that all their details obviously they’ve already registered and paid online and all the rest of it. What’s the experience from their point of view? Do they just get given one of your devices and it sits in a pocket and off they go?

Steve: Yeah, pretty much that’s it. I mean it’s a, it’s a mandatory product so everybody taking a lesson or at least a kids ski lesson, will get a tag. And so typically they’ll go through the registration process in the morning and we’ll go out on snow and they would, their instructor or some, or a supervisor will hand them a tag, scan then into the system and then scan them to the instructor. So it’s a pretty seamless process in terms of getting the tag on, it’s just above their ski boot. Originally we designed it as an armband, but we found that the kids take off their jackets at lunch where they rarely take off their pants. Yeah, that was an important lesson that we learned in the first season of operation at Steamboat.

Duncan: Got you. Alright, so we’ve got a question here from Jay, one of guests. Steve, there are a number of legal and safety concerns that commonly come up with school groups in Canada, does your technology in your experience give the resorts and/or the visiting school greater peace of mind?

Steve: It’s a good question. I mean we don’t deal specifically with the schools, we do know for example Whistler, those use Flaik with all the school groups that come up. So, you know, is that a, I would assume that they’re using that because there’s a substantial benefit in it in terms of peace of mind for themselves and again that duty of care. How much of that translates back to the parents, I, yeah, couldn’t tell you. But I do know it’s used across all their schools groups and a large portion of those kids as well will go online and relive their day and see what they do for the day. So it’s definitely a factor we continually try to do to work with the resorts as best we can for those sort of situations. And at different resorts they have different sort of products for local groups that they’re involved with, Winter Park, there’s one and up at Trompe Blanc we’re doing a lot of school groups particularly foreign groups from the UK over the last several years. So it’s, look it’s important. It’s not something that I typically deal with, it’s more left to the resort and we just sort of facilitate that.

Duncan: And are there any legal implications given that, I mean you’re essentially tracking information about kids that are all most certainly under 13 years old and so forth. What are the privacy and legal implications around that, if any?

Steve: Look, I mean we don’t see any from our point of view. All the information that we have is kept confidential within the resorts. You know, the resorts choose to share each student’s location data with them at the end of each day, but it’s not shared during the day so parents can’t access it until after 5pm. And yeah, all the data is completely secure and limited to that particular resort. So it’s we’ve never, yeah, never had any issues in terms of the privacy aspect of it because we typically well we do maintain fairly secure systems and a lot of the information’s kept confidential between the companies.

Duncan: Right, good yeah so you can’t, you can’t track a kid during the day and figure out…

Steve: That’s right yeah. I mean a lot of it is we, a lot of the use cases when we first came in we had no idea about them in the even just your separated parents, you know, and having one divorced parent come and potentially pick up the child when they’re not allowed to. You know, that’s a situation that we never even thought of, but we got introduced to. And then part of it is just the experience for the kid. So, kids 5 or 6 or higher if they see their parents during a lesson even if for 5 minutes and then the parent goes away, I’ve seen some pretty massive meltdowns and it just ruins the lesson for a lot of people. So I think it’s a combination of you don’t want the parents involved in the day even though they want to be, you don’t want them involved because it leads to a let’s say a worse lesson, you know, a bad experience. And then yeah, there are a whole bunch of legal issues around just letting that location data be known to people who technically they might not have any problems getting access to it, I mean, might be able to convince a ski resort employer as a parent they should find their daughter or son. But yeah all the resorts we’ve talked to have said let’s, we’re keeping that confidential during the day and it comes up occasionally, but no one so far has requested the location data be shared.

Duncan: Yeah, makes sense. So as probably most of us knows and the industry as a whole is sort of plateaued in terms of skier numbers and we’re heading towards the end of the boomer generation who have been lifetime skiers and as a big set of numbers and they start to retire. Getting on board new skiers, especially kids and getting them hooked on the sport for life it seems to me that Flaik has a, probably quite a significant part to play in that future.

Steve: Yeah, look I mean I think there is a significant need to change the way ski schools operate and a focus on those beginners. I mean the, some of the resorts that we work with they, the best potential rates we’ve seen are where they take the best skiers, the best instructors that they have and use those for their first time lessons, and those are the ideas that are sort of critical. You got to get people in, you’ve got to get them excited and you’ve got to make it easy. You know, they’ve got to have a great experience that first time or else they’re not going to come back. Skiing is not cheap. The lesson prices continually being pushed up and I think it’s potentially going the wrong way now. I mean we’ve seen resorts where the ski schools in particular are making more money with less students. So your short term profitability is fantastic, but you’re really killing the long term sort of growth of the industry. And I think there needs to be a reverse where you could even give away a ski school away for free. You got to get people in. And I think that’s, that’s the part of the problem I see with the industry I think, it’s just it’s expensive and you’ve got so many other options. I mean you can, you’re not just competing against other ski holds, you know, Disneyland. You know, we took my son up to Thomasland in Massachusetts and so there the sorts of things you’re competing against. A lot more activities that are a lot easier to do and a lot cheaper. And so I think ski school in particular has this great opportunity where they can, they’re the entry point, they’re the people that first timers are going to come in and see or people that have been out of the sport can come back in and just get better, you know. Take a guide around the mountain, I’ve been to a whole bunch of ski resorts that I have no idea where I am and it would be great to just have a local guide. And so there, there are definitely things I think ski schools need to really rethink about the, how they’re approaching their business. And a lot of that is just driven from the top. And a lot of it now is you’ve got corporate holding groups that own multiple resorts and public companies and everyone’s driven by different, different objectives, but I think the entire industry needs to take a step back and go okay the job of ski school is to get people in and to retain them and to build the next generation. And so I think if schools can do that then there’s plenty of opportunity for the industry to grow. But if it’s going to be a case of continuing to jack up prices then I think everybody’s going to run into some problems at some point in time.

Duncan: Yeah, yes the safety of the participants and getting them down the hill and having a good day is entirely key to that as well.

Steve: Yeah, I mean it’s like, it’s like any sport. If you’re not having fun then you’re not going to come back and do it. And so I think, yeah there’s just a, there’s the guided part of skiing where you need some help to get going. Once you get going then there’s a lot of other factors that come into play, but that’s where I think ski schools comes into play. I think where terrain design and beginner terrain and gradually increasing difficulty comes into play as well. So it’s not an easy solution, but there are definitely ways to do it and I think the focus just needs to be you put back on getting people in. You know, getting them to become those lifelong participants because if they’re coming on for their one or two times then yeah they’re paying, they’re paying the dues and accommodation and all that sort of stuff and maybe the P and L looks pretty good for this ski season. But as you go down the track it’s sort, it’s definitely going to go down hill.

Duncan: Yeah, excuse the pun on that one. Yeah the industry as well, it’s getting harder. Alright, so we’re about up to half an hour so folks if you have any questions for Steve please use the tools at the top. You can switch between the showcase app which will give you a link to the Flaik website or the Q and A which will allow you to ask some questions. And we’ll give you another minute or so if you want to plug anything else in. So Steve, I think that’s been fantastic, really very interesting actually to learn a bit more about, you know, ski school and safety in ski school. And there’s clearly a path forward and a use for technology that’s available now. So, alright, we have another question. Is there a current role for Flaik relative to adult lessons that you see?

Steve: Yeah, well look we, we definitely we played with a lot of adult and private lessons about 3 years ago. We started putting tags onto just the instructor because there was definitely not I think a big need for tagging up everybody. So I would say it’s at least 4 of our resorts, the 3 in Colorado and then Whistler we’re doing yeah, adults and privates and using that as a way for them to engage with their guests. So survey data is an important part of that, the end of the day email. So yeah, no it’s not all places do it, it’s definitely we see that as being an important part. And again the number of beginners who are coming into this sport as adults I think is, is a reasonable amount, and a number of people coming back into the sport after being away for several years. So we see adults and privates as a pretty big and pretty important part of it and more on the guest engagement side than the safety aspect. But it does play into some of administration tools and making life easier for ski schools to manage those sort of aspects around, even from instructors and training and scheduling, payroll, a whole bunch of different things. So it’s, we take a pretty holistic approach to the school and continually building our tools for all levels not just the beginners. I think that’s always going to kind of remain our core and as I said at the start live tracking is fundamental to what we do, but it’s definitely broadening the reach of it now.

Duncan: And so what do you think’s in the, in the future for Flaik? I mean drones are a hot topic at the moment apparently and do you think you think you’re going to end up using drones to, you know, help film lessons and give video feedback or something like that?

Steve: Yeah, interesting questions. It’s they’re all potential you could through a dice across. I could say that the guest or the guest user side, guest engagement side of it is, there’s a whole bunch of things that we think about. Our biggest focus right now is on I suppose the backend simplification for ski schools, making life easier. For the one simple reason, that the less time that a director or a supervisor has to spend in paperwork is the more time that they can spend on the hill with the guests. So that’s where we think the key is, is we want to be able to reduce all the backend stuff, all the data entry, all the pain that goes along with training people, dealing with your part time casual, you know, temporary instructors. I mean the Visa situation caused in the US and Canada over the last couple of years as you lost a lot of instructors who went back and forth between southern and northern hemispheres and then that sort of lost a few of those professional instructors. So there’s a lot more work now I think in terms of dealing with the instructors. And so our primary focus right now is about getting rid of that, getting rid of the pain, getting rid of the headache and making it easy for schools to run, and to get everybody out on the hill more. Whether it’s just talking to the guest, whether it’s spending more time in the lesson, but that’s really one of our high priorities is to make sure that ski schools spend as much time on the snow as possible.

Duncan: Yeah, interesting. Alright, good stuff. Well Steve, thank you very much for you time. It’s been very interesting to learn a bit about Flaik. For anybody that does want to find out a little bit more please have a look at the showcase app and go to onthemountain.flaik.com, and that’s spelt Flaik. This webinar will be put up on the Medic52 blog, so you will get a chance to replay it if you wish, and we’ll also post up some details so you guys can contact Flaik, get in touch with Steve and ask him some more questions from there. So again like I said, thank you very much for your time Steve.

Steve: Yeah, thank you.

Duncan: Have a good day. Thanks very much everyone for coming along. See you soon.

Steve: Cheers.

To find out more about Flaik visit http://onthemountain.flaik.com

Duncan Isaksen-Loxton

Duncan Isaksen-Loxton

Founder, CEO at Medic52
A lifetime skier and ski patroller of 14 years, mobile & web developer, Duncan is the author of ‘The Smartphone Medic’, and the founder of Medic52, following his passions of helping people and technology.
Duncan Isaksen-Loxton