Longtime ski executive publishes second book on industry, offers insight into Epic-Ikon battle
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Former Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. top exec Chris Diamond could not have imagined in late 2016, when “Ski Inc.,” his first book about the ski industry was released, that he would be back at it again so soon.
But that was before the ski resort version of “Game of Thrones” broke out in the spring 2017 and changed the landscape of American skiing, perhaps forever. The competition between the houses of Epic and Ikon was suddenly on.
“The ski industry as we have known it, no longer exists,” he writes in the new book. “And this happened with a speed that is simply stunning.”
Diamond is referring to the previous dominance of Vail Resorts’ multi-resort Epic ski pass and the decision by the Crown Family, owners of four ski resorts in and around Aspen, to partner with KSL, owner of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in the Sierras of California, to form a new alliance and fight back with a new multi-resort company,
Diamond, whose 44-year career as a ski executive stretched from Vermont to Colorado before he retired from his gig in Steamboat in January 2015, couldn’t remain on the sidelines any more than a ski bum could pass on 2 feet of powder.
And now, he is ready to release his follow-up to the first book, entitled “Ski Inc. 2020.” For skiers who are struggling to process the amount of rapid change that has overtaken ski resorts, the author’s contacts in the industry and his own savvy make it a compelling read.
Aspen surprised the ski industry by acquiring the remains of the fallen Intrawest empire in 2017, including heavyweights Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado. Two days later they scored another coup, acquiring Mammoth Mountain, another significant California resort. Then, another heavyweight, ritzy Deer Valley, was added to Ikon, and the acquisitions battle only grew from there.
The new alliance ultimately settled on calling itself Alterra, and the change they brought to the winter resort landscape took Diamond’s breath away.
“Incredibly, Alterra, in a handful of months, managed to put together a viable competitor to Vail, something that would have been unconceivable just a year earlier,” Diamond said.
Steamboat skiers are able to purchase Alterra’s Ikon pass without blackouts for around $900 (less than the amount Steamboat devotees once spent for a season pass), and it’s good for skiing at 41 resorts. For skiers who can accept some blackout days, the Ikon base pass was $599 compared to Epic’s $669. How can they do that?
“The (business) model is simply, exchange a deep discount for early commitment,” Diamond writes. “The result is a much more stable business platform, with fewer peaks and valleys, which is especially important in the contest of climate change.”
Translation: A big chunk of annual winter revenues are in hand before a chairlift bullwheel ever starts turning.
What was not immediately appreciated or understood was how wildly popular the multi-resort passes would be, Diamond continues.
Diamond praised Robert A. Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, for his acumen in the first book and interviewed him at the Vail Resorts corporate headquarters in Broomfield for his latest book.
Katz, Diamond observes, was not the first ski executive to recognize the appeal of value passes. However, he concludes, it was Katz who was the first to grasp the potential of the passes and to build a company’s entire growth strategy around it.
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