5/12/11 – Snowheads: meet the virtual crowd who turn real on the slopes

Left to right: DeeJayDee, pixiebri and kwaka

I’m not much of a technophile, but I’m starting to see the light after a week on holiday with the good folk from snowHeads, an online community of nearly 28,000, which organises five or six “bashes” (ski trips) each winter. Last week I joined the site’s “PSB11” (pre-season bash 2011) in Tignes with 120 snowHeads, and they used their social network in ever such sensible ways.

Even before we got to the slopes, technology swung into action. On the snowHeads coach en route from Geneva airport to Tignes last Saturday, flowa, a smiley New Zealander in her 30s, let her wallet and phone slip out of her pocket while ducking out for an emergency pee in a lay-by near Annecy.

Half an hour and 50km later, she realised they were missing. What to do? Enter HolidayLoverXX – a seasoned “bash”er – a few seats away, who recalled that a snowHead named paulio lived nearby and might be able to help. Using a smartphone, someone sent paulio a PM (private message) asking if he might be able to help find the missing items.

Scroll forward to breakfast the next day and paulio replied he’d be delighted to help, but clear directions to the spot were needed. Enter HolidayLoverXX again with her laptop, looking up Annecy on Google Maps. A bit of street view sleuthing followed, and flowa thought she recognised a roundabout near the lay-by. A couple of clicks further revealed it to be the very lay-by. Tarquin – a Yorkshireman – identified the coordinates of the spot and sent them to paulio.

Paulio replied that he would drive to the spot, and ordered flowa to go skiing. By 1.30pm, news arrived that he had found the items.

Next step: how to transport them from Annecy to Tignes. HolidayLoverXX and Tarquin contacted eng-CH, who was due to drive up to the PSB that evening, to ask if she’d divert to pick them up from paulio. And so she did.

As flowa said – posting a thank-you note and an account of the triumph on snowHeads the next day, “What a team, what a community”. See flowa’s full post here – from which, you’ll see, I have borrowed extracts for this account; credit and thank you to flowa – http://tinyurl.com/cj76nwd – and scroll down to see reaction from other snowHeads.

PMs and texts were also key to arrangements both during and before the trip.

A fortnight before departure day, I had a PM in my snowHeads inbox from NicSnow, a London-based snowHead who was organising a pre-PSB11 get-together on a Friday night in a London pub. I was already busy, but 30 people turned up and had a great evening. Then, the night before the flight out, I received a text. “If you get to LHR in time tomorrow there’s a plan to meet in the Tin Goose in T1 after security!” It was great way make people feel welcome, especially those who came to the PSB on their own.

Cyber-charged ski-testing

The first couple of days, there were further useful, concise texts about boot-fitting, transceiver practice, a vodka party and free vin chaud. There was another about discounts in a restaurant – claimable on presentation of a snowHeads ‘snowcard’, a snazzy, barcoded photocard each of us had been given on arrival – and another about an avalanche safety talk.

Even for ski-testing, there was a cyber-angle. When Kneissl, White Dot, DPS and Salomon – invited by snowHeads to be present at the PSB11 – handed out skis, they scanned a barcode on each tester’s snowcard and matched it with the barcode on the skis. It’s all being uploaded to the site, so – theoretically – each of us should, on our return, have an online record of which skis we’ve tested. Genius!

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