It may still be the Dog Days of summer, as half the country sweats through a heat wave, but for those eagerly looking forward to ski and snowboard season, the landscape just changed dramatically.
As I’ve covered here before at Forbes, the industry has been riding a wave of consolidation, resulting in better, cheaper and more flexible national and even global season pass products. While traditional season passes were good at one mountain, today’s passes – often significantly cheaper – are good at dozens.
I’ve compared the main products before, and likely will have to update this as ski season gets closer because they change so much from year to year (and today’s big news will likely spur a countermove by rivals) but you can learn more about the biggies, Ikon, Epic and Mountain Collective, here and here and here.
The leader in this space has long been Vail Resorts, the first to introduce the concept with its Epic Pass. Well, the Epic Pass and the Vail Resorts portfolio just got even more epic. Today the company announced the planned acquisition of smaller rival operator Peaks Resorts, which in one fell swoop will add seventeen more mountains around the country to the Vail arsenal. According to a release, pending approvals, publicly traded Vail Resorts, Inc. (NYSE: MTN) will acquire 100 percent of the outstanding stock of Peak Resorts, Inc. (NASDAQ: SKIS) at a purchase price of $11.00 per share.
For skiers and snowboarders, the big impact will be for those in large urban areas on the east Coast and Midwest, tens of millions of Americans. One of Vail’s most successful strategies has been to use smaller feeder mountains near large cities, like Michigan’s Mt. Brighton, which serves the Detroit and Chicago metro areas, to lure travelers into its Epic Pass program. The idea is that if you ski at home on weekends and take one or more big ski vacations a year out west (or to Europe or Japan), by choosing the Vail-owned local spot as your home hill and buying the Epic Pass, you also get the free skiing at many of the best and most famed destination resorts on earth when you travel, a real win-win for skiers. However, until now, this has been limited to a few key metro areas like Boston (Mt. Sunapee) and Minneapolis (Afton Alps). With today’s move, Vail now adds many of the best options that are closest to New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, St. Louis and Kansas City.
The highest profile spots in the collection are Hunter Mountain in New York, which has long been the closest major mountain to the New York city tri-state metro area, the place many Big Apple residents up skiing; Attitash, Wildcat and Crotched Mountains, a trio of major New Hampshire ski resorts serving the Boston market; and Mt. Snow, the southernmost major resort in Vermont and the closest of the top New England resorts, which in turn are by far the best skiing in the Eastern half of the United States, to New York City. In terms of the ultra-desirable New York market, Vail could not have picked up two better positioned resorts than Hunter and Mt. Snow, and now basically has no rival in this region, since there is nothing comparable to these for any competitor to buy, and Vail already owns Stowe and Okemo in Vermont, two of the Northeast’s best and most popular big resorts. The other Peak properties in the deal include:
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.
“We are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to add such a powerful network of ski areas to our Company,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts, via release. “The acquisition fully embodies our philosophy of Epic for Everyone, making skiing and riding more accessible to guests across the U.S. and around the world.”
Timothy Boyd, president and chief executive officer of Peak Resorts, said, “Vail Resorts has a proven track record of celebrating the unique identity of its resorts, while continually investing in the guest and employee experience. For this reason, we are confident that our resorts and employees will continue to thrive within the Vail Resorts network.”
When the transaction closes, the 2019-20 Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass and Military Epic Pass will include unlimited and unrestricted access to all 17 Peak Resorts ski areas. As an example, the top tier product is the Epic Pass at under a thousand dollars ($939 for adults and $489 for children), which was already a bargain, but now offers unlimited, unrestricted (no blackout date or fine print) access to the seventeen newcomers plus: Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Crested Butte, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Stowe, Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Stevens Pass, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton, and Wilmot, as well as the company’s properties in Australia, Perisher, Falls Creek, and Hotham. Passholders also get limited access to partner resorts, including: seven days at each of Telluride, Sun Valley, Snowbasin, and the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies; five consecutive days at the ten ski resorts comprising Japan’s Hakuba Valley; five consecutive days at Japan’s Rusutsu Resort, and limited access to Les 3 Vallées in France; 4 Vallées in Switzerland; and Skirama Dolomiti in Italy.
If these names are not familiar to you here’s the overview: the list includes the largest and most popular ski resort in all of North America, the most popular one in the United States, the largest one in the United States, the largest in Australia, which means summer skiing, making the pass good year round, and two of the three largest ski resort complexes in the entire world. That is a very big deal – and a very good deal.