California ski resort Northstar-at-Tahoe competes with a dozen ski areas, all within an hour's drive. The fifth-largest in terms of skiable acres, Northstar is a "strong third" in skier visits, notes public-relations director Judy Daniels, who attributes that status to the resort's $13-million investment in technology since 1991. How does Northstar decide how much technology is enough? "We like to be on the edge, but we choose only things that are practical," says Daniels.

In addition to having state-of-the-art high-speed lifts, grooming vehicles, and snowmaking equipment, Northstar is the first mountain in the country to boast an electronic trail map. It also has a frequent-skier program: Club Vertical members wear personalized, preprogrammed microchip wristbands, which allow them access to members-only, electronically gated lines at each lift. The microchip scans and records the number of vertical feet the member has skied to date, and the resort awards prizes and discounts based on that number. Members can charge lift tickets, food, ski lessons, and even child care with their wristbands, and can also receive electronic messages while skiing.

Northstar, for its part, gets feedback on skier preferences and traffic patterns. Club Vertical has brought Northstar $2 million in incremental business since its 1992 launch, Daniels estimates, with members accounting for 14% of the 500,000 skier visits last year (up from 10.5% the year before). The increased traffic highlights Daniels's most important criterion when making technology decisions: "We won't pursue things for which we won't get a return on our investment."

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