Aspen Skiing Co.'s planned acquisition of Intrawest Resort Holdings will help it compete against Vail Resorts but it won't immediately produce a shared ski pass for Snowmass, Steamboat and Squaw Valley.
Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan said shared marketing efforts are one of the expected benefits of the acquisition of Intrawest by affiliates of Skico and KSL Capital Partners. However, it's too late in the process to offer a special ski pass for 2017-18, he said.
"We're all locked in for next year," he said.
Skico participates in the Mountain Collective pass, which offers 32 days on the slopes at 16 resorts. It was initially offered for $399 for next season.
Intrawest is already offering multi-resort passes and participates in the M.A.X. pass — a 44-resort pass that offers five days at each mountain. It is currently being sold for $629.
Skico and KSL announced Monday their affiliates will form an entity to pursue the acquisition of Intrawest. The $1.5 billion acquisition is expected to close before the end of the third quarter of the calendar year. It is subject to "certain closing conditions" and regulatory approvals, the announcement said.
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Intrawest owns or operates six mountain resorts with 8,000 skiable acres and 1,100 acres primed for real estate development. Its holdings include Steamboat Mountain Resort. It also holds a long-term operating agreement for Winter Park.
KSL already owns Squaw Valley and Alpine Valley in California.
Kaplan said joint marketing strategies are one of several advantages provided by the acquisition. Vail Resorts has become the 800-pound gorilla of the ski industry. It recently added Whistler-Blackcomb and Stowe to its fold and offers customers the Epic Pass as an inexpensive way to ski all its holdings.
Kaplan said today's skiers are looking for a variety of experiences. They want to see more places and try different slopes. Therefore, he said, a bundled pass offering a bounty of experiences makes sense.
Aspen Skiing Co. has struggled to increase its market share. Annual skier visits — the number of skiers and snowboarders paying for a full- or half-day on the slopes — has hovered around 1.4 to 1.5 million for the last decade.
Hanle said the proposed deal would help Skico and its affiliates compete in the ski industry.
"This transaction will allow all of the resorts to better serve their customer bases and provide them with more choices," he wrote in an email. "We believe that this will be beneficial in the long run for the entire ski industry."
Skico posted news of the proposed acquisition on its website under the banner headline, "Better Together."
"Each resort has a strong sense of place with incredible passion and commitment from their employees and loyal guests," Skico said. "We're convinced this new venture will bring fresh perspectives to these unique properties, help them enhance the guest experience, and foster even stronger partnerships with the local communities. Aspen Skiing Company will continue to be operated separately from Intrawest and Squaw, but we plan to work together in areas that make sense."
Kaplan said the merger will benefit Aspen Skiing Co. and its new affiliates in less apparent ways. Ski resorts are in a constant battle with other sectors of the travel and leisure industry to provide information in a comprehensive but digestible way — everything from mountain conditions to selling lift tickets and ski school lessons.
"It's a constant battle as an independent resort to keep up with changes in technology," he said.
The six resorts of Intrawest, four of Skico and two of KSL combined could better pursue that information as one team.
"I would say it's number one" on the list of advantages of a merger, he said.
The deal will also provide potential markets for additional Limelight Hotels. Skico acquired the Limelight in Aspen and rebranded it into a highly successful accommodation and hangout place. The second Limelight opened in Ketchum, Idaho, this season at the base of Sun Valley. A third is planned for Snowmass Base Village.
"We think there's opportunity for Limelights elsewhere," Kaplan said.
Even if the acquisition goes as planned, the four ski areas of Aspen-Snowmass will remain privately owned by the Lester Crown family of Chicago. They won't be folded into the ownership group headed by the affiliates of Skico and KSL.
Managing partner Jim Crown couldn't be reached for comment at his Chicago office Monday.
KSL's Squaw Valley and Alpine Valley will be part of the new organization, according to a news release.
Intrawest is currently a privately held company. Hanle said the new company will be privately held, once the acquisition is finalized.
Kaplan said Aspen and Snowmass will maintain their special and unique qualities even if they end up with eight sister resorts.
"The independent spirit will be alive and well in Aspen," he said.
Skico's website expanded on that theme Monday.
"We have thought long and hard about growth and ensuring it does not distract us or diminish our dedication to this community, and we firmly believe that by broadening our perspective and reach, we will be even stronger and more effective in living our values, our principles, and our passion," Skico said.
Kaplan said it won't be determined until after the close of the deal if he will take on broader management responsibilities.
This is the second time Skico and KSL have teamed in a major deal. They formed a joint venture last year, with East West Partners of Avon, to buy Snowmass Base Village for an undisclosed sum. Their development plans feature starting work on the Limelight Hotel this spring.
Skico sees completion of Base Village as the key to increasing ski visits and achieving the potential of its bread-and-butter resort.
Monday's acquisition shows Skico was looking beyond the Roaring Fork Valley to secure its future in the ski industry.
Under the terms of the merger agreement, Intrawest stockholders will receive $23.75 in cash for each share of Intrawest common stock, representing a total valuation of approximately $1.5 billion including debt obligations to be assumed or refinanced net of cash at closing.
Intrawest started investigating a sale in January and it was instantly rumored that Aspen Skiing Co. was a possible buyer.