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Ski Pass Defender

At the risk of his ski instructing job, Breckenridge inventor Jim Lawson takes on the identity theft risks posed by radio frequency technology in ski passes. Is it worth it?
posted: 11/03/2010
by Todd Bove

In August, Vail Resorts announced the launch of its new EpicMix program. The social media-based application will be used in conjunction with the radio frequency identification (RFID) embedded in your season pass to track days skied, vertical feet, and the lifts you ride. Sounds like a fun idea, right? Not to everyone.

An opposing reaction has slowly been gaining momentum through a seemingly grassroots backlash that left inventor/ Breckenridge ski instructor Jonathan Lawson with the decision to either pursue his personal freedoms, or keep his job.

Since 2005, Lawson has been in the business of identity theft risk mitigation while also serving as a ski instructor. As a result of being immersed in the identity theft industry, Lawson noticed a recent increase in the number of companies using RFID as a means of conducting business. Lawson further noticed what card companies were doing with the information and data they were collecting, and realized they were often giving information out to third parties. After becoming suspicious about how open the information systems actually are, Lawson invented the Ski Pass Defender.

The “SPD” is a sleeve used to block RF technology from automatically scanning your pass. The SPD works by absorbing the RF signal from a scanner and thus not allowing your pass to be scanned without your permission.

Results are mixed as to the validity or need for the Ski Pass Defender, especially since Vail Resorts gives all Epic Mix users and season pass holders “the opportunity to disable the RF chip in their pass or lift ticket” according to the EpicMix website. Lawson feels the added protection is worthwhile however, stating on his own website that “Anytime a company holds or gathers information, there is a privacy concern.”

Granted, in the current age of information and technology many consumers are too quick to brush off the threat of identity theft, however, does that risk really spill over onto your ski pass? According to Lawson it does. “RFID was never designed to be secure, all of the maintenance now is to work around the system and make it secure.”

Following the invention of the SPD in June, Lawson met with Vail Resorts and was presented an ultimatum: abandon his efforts on the Defender and sign a code of conduct agreement, or give up his job as a ski instructor. Lawson has pursued the SPD and is also working on a blocker for use on RF equipped student identification, often used on college campuses.

What do we think? According to the FAQ on Vail Resorts Epicmix website, the company does “not store any personally identifiable information (name, address, credit card #, etc.) on your RF Pass. The only information stored on your Pass is a compressed, unique number that is correlated to your information in our secure datacenter-based systems.” If you are looking for added peace of mind, the SPD is an option, but with the lack of information actually stored on RFID ski passes, it remains to be seen weather the Defender is a worthwhile investment.

For more information check out:


Ski Pass Defender

Vail Resorts does offer the option to "disable" the RF chip - by punching it with a hole punch. That's a permanent "opt out". SPD let's you use the RF features for getting on the lift, but keep it shielded at other times. Choice is good (at least for me).
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