The news today that Vail Resorts have bought another 17 ski areas in what must be the largest single ski resorts purchase in history, taking its total count if ski areas now Vail Resorts owned to 37, begs the question is this now the biggest group of ski resorts ever created?
The 17 newly added ski areas, previously owned by the Peak Resorts group and sold for around a quarter of a billion dollars, are mostly small to mid-sized urban areas in seven states in the North Eastern USA, include many areas that are the key local hills for major metropolitan centres in the area including New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Columbus, St. Louis, Kansas City and Louisville.
There are some internationally better known destinations in there including Mount Snow in Vermont, Hunter Mountain in New York State and Attitash Mountain Resort (pictured top), Wildcat Mountain (pictured below)and Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire.
The purchase of Peak Resorts is Vail’s second big announcement of 2019 having taken over two more of Australia’s larger ski areas ahead of the start of the 2019 season there last month. So the Group has more than doubled in terms of the number of ski areas operated from 18 last year to 37 now.
The main driving force behind the latest purchase appears to be the battle for market share dominance with sales of the Epic season pass which gives holders of most versions of the ticket access to all of Vail’s ski areas, plus a number of partner areas around the world. It is believed Vail now sells more than a million of these tickets, the main one of which is currently priced at $930 to skiers in over 100 countries around the world well before the ski season even begins – taking out a lot of the unpredictability of cash flow that has dogged ski resort operators since the first opened 150+ years ago.
“We’re thrilled to welcome the resorts and their employees into the Vail Resorts family and invest in their continued success,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts. “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. 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. 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.”
But is Vail Resorts the biggest ski area operator? Well there are different ways to measure that and it’s not yet known if Vail come top in all or any category. Besides the number of ski areas owned you could count the number of lifts in the combined group, the skiable area, the uplift capacity, the combined number of skier visits or how much money the group makes from combined operations.
In those last two categories the French Compagnie Des Alpes Group has traditionally been seen as the world number one for many years, operating a dozen or so European ski areas, predominantly in France, including several of the world’s biggest by terrain area and skier numbers.
It’s unclear as yet whether Vail Resort’s new increased size will take it over the line past Compagnie Des Alpes on those two measures, and possibly others.
It will also be interesting to see if the Alterra Group with their Epic Pass alternative the Ikon Pass buy some areas to try to keep up with Vail’s offer.
When Alterra launched a few years ago, from nowhere, it quickly bought up about as many ski areas as Vail had then but has since failed to keep up at least in the ski areas owned numbers game, and has 14 centres under its ownership, although a substantial number of partner resorts included on their pass.
Most recently the two groups have done battle on the length of season offered to pass holders with Vail hoping to open in October (Keystone) for the 2019-20 season and announcing ski areas like Breckenridge and Whistler will stay open to May and June whilst the Alterra group’s Mammoth is open from early November to late July and Squaw Valley not much less. So both are offering holders potentially 8-9 months of skiing.