Vail Resorts expands in the East, Midwest
VAIL — The Fall Line Ski Club, which bills itself as “Southern New Jersey’s premier ski, board, sport and social club,” is organizing excursions to four Colorado Epic Pass resorts this winter.
But just a handful of people who are signed up for the trips actually bought the $939 Epic Pass, said Michael Houlihan, the club’s winter trip chair.
After Vail Resorts announced it was buying several small, nearby ski areas that are popular with the 250 Fall Line members — including Jack Frost in Pennsylvania, just two hours away — he thinks more members will buy Epic Passes.
“It will certainly make people think about getting an Epic Pass now and maybe say, ‘I was going to go on one trip with Fall Line — let’s do two trips, and now we can go to Jack Frost and ski free all winter,’” Houlihan said.
Vail Resorts plans to acquire Peak Resorts, which operates 17 ski resorts in the Northeast and Midwest, for $264 million, the company said Monday.
The resorts include:
Mount Snow in Vermont.
Hunter Mountain in New York.
Attitash Mountain Resort, Wildcat Mountain and Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire.
Liberty Mountain Resort, Roundtop Mountain Resort, Whitetail Resort, Jack Frost and Big Boulder in Pennsylvania.
Alpine Valley, Boston Mills, Brandywine and Mad River Mountain in Ohio.
Hidden Valley and Snow Creek in Missouri.
Paoli Peaks in Indiana.
Once the deal closes, which is expected this fall, the resorts will be included in the 2019-20 Epic Pass, the company said.
The biggest resort is Mount Snow, at 600 skiable acres; Paoli Peaks has just 65 skiable acres with a 300-foot vertical drop.
The total acreage of the 17 resorts is 2,574 acres; Vail alone has 5,289 skiable acres.
It’s not their size, but their strategic location, that provides value to Vail Resorts.
The acquisition extends a strategy of buying ski areas near big cities, with the hopes that local skiers will buy Epic Passes and visit the company’s owned and partner resorts across the country and world.
Vail Resorts bought Afton Alps, near Minneapolis, and Mount Brighton, near Detroit, in 2012; and Wilmot Mountain, near Chicago, in 2016.
“It makes great sense because Peak Resorts is in most major Eastern markets, and it allows (Vail Resorts) to take the Epic Pass into these markets and expose potentially new customers to Vail Resorts and their collection of Western and international resorts,” said Andy Daly, a former Vail Resorts president, former Vail mayor and a current owner of Powderhorn Mountain Resort near Grand Junction.
Before Monday’s deal, Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass offered unlimited access to 20 resorts, plus limited access to another 42; its Northeast resorts only included Stowe and Okemo.
The company said the deal now gives the company a presence near the major metro areas including New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Columbus, St. Louis, Kansas City and Louisville.
“It’s part of a pattern we’ve seen before,” said Michael Berry, retired president of the National Ski Areas Association and member of the US Ski-Snowboard Hall of Fame. “They want urban-proximate areas to connect as ticket windows for the larger Epic Pass program. That has been certainly the pattern to date, and I don’t see this as out of sync with that objective.”
Vail Resort said it would invest $15 million in capital improvements for the 17 resorts over the next two years.
The deal will boost Vail Resorts’ cash flow by $60 million in the year ending July 31, 2021, the company said.
“Peak Resorts’ ski areas in the Northeast are a perfect complement to our existing resorts and together will provide a very compelling offering to our guests in New York and Boston,” said Rob Katz, Vail Resorts’ chairman and CEO, in a news release. “With this acquisition, we are also able to make a much stronger connection to guests in critical cities in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest and build on the success we have already seen with our strategy in Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit.”
‘It’s probably great’
Locals expressed optimism about their resorts becoming, as Vail Resorts put it, “epic.”
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s probably great, because it’s a recognized name and a standard for the industry,” said Leigh McGunnigle, a trustee on the Village Board in Tannersville, N.Y., which is a stone’s throw from Hunter Mountain.
McGunnigle is also the general manager of the Villa Vosilla hotel and restaurant in Tannersville.
Hunter Mountain is less than three hours from New York City. The New York metropolitan area has 20.3 million people; Colorado has about 6 million in the entire state.
Hunter Mountain and the surrounding community have been boosted by Peak Resorts’ recent terrain expansion, which added about a third more terrain. McGunnigle said more people came to the resort last winter to check out the upgrades.
He said he hopes Vail Resorts will continue to upgrade the mountain and help bring more events to the area — particularly in the summer and fall.
“Having Vail come in is a win right now,” McGunnigle said. “I hope they work with local community people who have been here for a long time and reach out to us to see if there’s anything we can do to help in the transition.”
Ari Jackson, of Putney, Vermont, skis Mount Snow about once a week, chaperoning ski outings with his son’s middle-school class.
Jackson said he has mixed feelings about Vail Resorts’ acquisition of Mount Snow. The consolidation of ski-area ownership has meant affordable ski passes, and the ability to go to many different mountains.
However, sometimes it has some downsides. At Okemo, a locals’ midweek pass disappeared after Vail Resorts bought the resort.
But, Jackson said, the good outweighs the bad.
“It’s mostly, on a balance, a positive,” he said.
On Monday, Vail Resorts had updated its Epic Pass website to reflect that the pass will, deal pending, offer unlimited access to 37 resorts and limited access to 42 more.
In January 2018, Alterra introduced the Ikon Pass as a direct competitor to Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass. The 2019-20 Ikon Pass offers unlimited access to 14 resorts, plus up to seven days at 24 other resorts.
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