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I’m on the front side of Vail Mountain, soaked in blue sky and beaming sunlight, a white expanse spread out below my board. A grooming machine has carved a meandering ribbon into the snow of Avanti, the trail before me, and the air is a shock to these city lungs. I’m sure the view is amazing, though I don’t really notice it. My attention is on the screen located just below my right eye, on my I/O Recon goggles from Smith Optics. Looking down, I see that I’m at exactly 10,752 feet, that I’ve boarded all of 422 feet of vertical so far today, and that I’m currently going zero kilometres an hour. That’s about to change.

I turn on my helmet-mounted Contour ROAM2 camera. Then I’m up on my board, knees bent, my ears filled with the menacing hook of Black Mountain’s “Stormy High” piped in from my earphones through my K2 helmet. “The witch is on your trail, my lord,” goes a verse.

Blue Sky BasinA skier check his stats on his phone before tackling Blue Sky Basin.

Swooping down Avanti’s evergreen-topped hills, the speedometer reads 30, then 40, then 50. Turning becomes a waste of time and speed. My Smith goggles engender a sort of self-competition: Got to beat my own record. Mission accomplished. Standing in line with a gaggle of fellow Bluetooth-enabled skiers at the base of the Avanti Express Lift, I can check my progress on the phone in my pocket, logged by one of 27 radio frequency ID stations Vail Mountain started installing in 2010: I hit 85 km/h, five kilometres faster than yesterday.

Skiers and boarders used to flock to Vail, Colorado, for its brilliant terrain and a cushy après-ski experience involving ski valets, $65 margaritas and glistening Timbit-size dollops of pork belly confit served up at Vail’s Game Creek Restaurant, accessible only by snowcat. It’s still all of this, of course. But thanks to the Facebook-obsessed, YouTube-consuming, Foursquared, Twitterrific revolution – and all the gadgetry this entails – the act of throwing yourself down a mountain on one or two wooden slats has changed considerably in the last five years.

Vail MountainEven with all the technology, it never hurts to refer to the lo-fi map at the top of the hill to get your bearings.

With its RF stations, Vail Mountain has effectively blanketed its terrain with a layer of technology. An online program called EpicMix tracks your vertical feet, awards you virtual pins for any number of on-mountain accomplishments and tweets out pictures taken by Vail’s fleet of photographers roaming the terrain. On the ride back up the hill, the screen in my goggles shows me a bird’s-eye view of the runs off the top of the chair. Kangaroo Cornice looks pretty good. Looking up, I finally realize, so does the view.

Bolstered by my specs, I decide to test my abilities in a race against a virtual Lindsey Vonn on a mini GS run. I score nearly 15 seconds slower than her, somehow earning myself a bronze medal. I want to share the good news with Lindsey; she has a suite two floors above mine at the Ritz-Carlton. But, alas, Us Weekly informs me that she’s off canoodling with Tiger Woods somewhere. At least we had EpicMix Racing, Lindsey.

The Club CatThe Club Cat, Game Creek Restaurant's snowcat, picks up skiers at the chairlift and transports them to one of the best meals in Vail.

A freak lightning storm puts an end to my skiing for the day, so I decide a celebration for the bronze is in order. I start talking with Janelle Laughlin at Wildwood, Vail’s bonkers-delicious smokehouse at the top of the 3 and 7 chairs. It’s packed – Vail staff clears the mountain in conditions like this – but Wildwood is used to lines. It regularly depletes all of surrounding Eagle County of its pork butt supply, which it smokes and braises in its on-site smokers for a total of 20 hours.

Laughlin has no idea where her kids are, except that they’re somewhere on Vail’s 5,289 skiable acres. She isn’t the least bit worried. Turning to her iPhone, she sees that Jackson rode Pride Express 58 minutes ago, while Anderson rode Gondola One an hour ago and even earned a Wingardium Leviosa pin (think Harry Potter) for having skied 100,000 feet in a single season. “EpicMix lets me stalk my kids,” she says.

Vail MountainA boy checks out the trail of snowcat tracks.

It’s also a canny move on Vail’s part. In posting and sharing statistics and pictures, Vail skiers become de facto brand ambassadors, showing the world what an amazing time they’re having at the hill. “There’s no better form of advertisement,” Vail’s chief information officer, Robert Urwiler, tells me later.

The next day, the sun cracks open the sky. I’m strapped in and turned on, my goggles, phone, camera and Vail pass monitoring my progress. Technology is everywhere, from the kids with GoPro cameras flicked up like rooster combs on their helmets to the guy casually taking a picture of himself and his hot chocolate at the Dawg Haus below Blue Sky Basin.

I take a break at the 10th, Vail’s gourmet on-mountain restaurant, to lunch on a Kobe beef burger at 10,250 feet. Then it’s on to Sun Up Bowl, a blazing white slab of corn snow and steep vertical that descends into a patch of evergreen. I’m an Ewok whizzing through the trees, my camera recording, my goggles displaying, the buzz saw intensity of Motörhead’s “Whiplash” piping through my helmet and into my ears. It’s a video-game take on backcountry reality, and I can hardly tell which one is better.

Mountain StandardMountain Standard

Travel Essentials

Valets at the Ritz-Carlton
 Club, Vail will have your skis
 waiting for you at the foot of 
the mountain and whisked
 away at the end of the day.
 Don’t miss out on the hillside
 hot tubs.

01 After your sashimi at Matsuhisa, try the moshi: bite-size ice cream balls wrapped in rice cake. 

02 You’ll need to take a gondola and a snowcat before you can enjoy it, but the Kurobuta pork at Game Creek Restaurant is the second-best thing you can experience on a mountain. 

03 Get your ski legs properly tenderized at RockResorts Spa, where the chatter of après-ski is replaced by pan flutes. 

04 Practically everything you can eat at Mountain Standard has touched raw flame. The roasted bone marrow is deliciously carnal. 

05 Located at 11,000 feet, Wildwood Smokehouse is probably the highest-altitude barbecue joint on the planet – with the juiciest brisket. 

Tags

COLORADO     DESTINATION SKI     GADGETS     OUTDOOR TRAVEL     SKI DESTINATIONS     WINTER    

Getting There

On December 14, Air Canada will inaugurate the only non-stop service between Vail, Colorado, and Toronto, offering weekly Saturday flights. Seasonal service ends in April.

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