U niversity of Colorado grad Patrick Kenslea was enjoying a day of snowboarding at Vail when he stopped and went indoors for lunch. When he came out, his $800 snowboard was gone.

"I looked around for an hour, looking everywhere, and couldn't find it anywhere at all," Kenslea said.

Once he realized it had been stolen, he started the blame game.

"It's not my own fault because I didn't steal it," he said. "But when you have something that expensive you kind of have to think about that stuff."

Four CU Leeds School of Business alumni have been thinking about just that dilemma, and over the past two years they've developed an electronic ski-locker prototype that they hope will prevent theft on the hill. Their SnowGate -- a high-tech hybrid of a gym locker and a ski rack -- was tested for the first time over the weekend at Winter Park. They hope it's the start of SnowGates at every ski resort.

Co-founders Cory Finney, Nick Ramsey, Matt Hoenecke and Christian Nitu came up with the concept in 2011 when they met in a business-plan preparation class. Although it was a collaborative effort, Nitu's inspiration came in 2011 while skiing Breckenridge. Much like Kenslea, he stopped lunch, at the top of Peak 8 in the Vista Haus. When he looked for his skis to head down the hill, they were gone. After searching for 20 minutes it was clear the skis were stolen. He was left with a lonely lift ride down the mountain.

So he knew there was a market for something that would protect people's gear on the mountain.

"We wanted to come up with an easy, convenient and very cheap way to lock up not only your skis and snowboards, but you can throw in your boots, your backpack, jacket and stuff like that," Nitu said.


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Winning first place in the business plan class, then taking second in the Information Technology track of CU's New Venture Challenge provided the team with a total $4,200 in prize money. Success in the competitions and support from friends and family, gave the team the capital and the confidence to launch the business.

The prototype is set up so people walk up to the electronic kiosk, swipe their credit card to open a locker, drop-off their equipment, and return with the same credit card when they are ready to pick-up their gear. Paying as they go, customers can open the locker as many times as they please and even leave skis overnight.

CU Leeds alums Matt  Hoenecke, left, Christian Nitu and Cory Finny stand next to their SnowGate locker system in front of the Koelbel building on campus.
CU Leeds alums Matt Hoenecke, left, Christian Nitu and Cory Finny stand next to their SnowGate locker system in front of the Koelbel building on campus. (CLIFF GRASSMICK)

The locker is also equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology which will allow frequent customers to load up money on a SnowGate card then simply "bump" the card against the lockers for instant access.

Hal Newberry, the base operations director at Winter Park, who invited the SnowGate team to test the prototype last weekend, said that kind of ease could help SnowGate be successful. It takes a lot of work to ski -- driving up I-70, finding a place to park, lugging gear around -- so efficiency is essential in the ski industry.

"What we want to do is try to help our guest with ease, and we think that this (SnowGate) is going to be part of the next thing we want to see up here," Newberry said.

Meanwhile, co-founder Cory Finney said the company is exploring other markets in which the locker system could be successful, including beaches and universities.

"Our long term goal for the company is to be a secure storage solution for an active lifestyle," Finney said.