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SEISMIC SHIFT IN NORTH AMERICA SKI INDUSTRY - James Cove, PlanetSKI Editor
Tuesday April 11, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

Aspen Skiing Co has announced it is buying more US ski resorts. It follows a $1.5bn deal earlier this week that will see it go head to head with the might of Vail Resorts. The gloves are off! UPDATED

On Wednesday Aspen Skiing Co and KSL Capital Partners alliance said it is buying Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain in California.

The resorts have 6,000 acres of terrain and have 2 million visits a year.

The CEO of Mammoth Resorts, Rusty Gregory, said it was "the next logical chapter in the story of Mammoth."

"This new platform, built around a collective passion for the mountains and our commitment to the people who visit, work and live there, is exactly what the ski resort business needs," Gregory said.

We reproduce the full press release from Mammoth Mountain at the end of this article.

The move follows on from an announcement earlier in the week that the Aspen Skiing Co and the financial company KSL Capital Partners have acquired Intrawest Resorts Holdings.

Intrawest owns Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado, Snowshoe in West Virginia, Stratton Mountain in Vermont, Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Blue Mountain in Ontario and the Canadian Mountain Holidays heli-skiing operation in British Columbia.

Intrawest also operates Winter Park ski area in Colorado.

KSL Capital Partners owns Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in the Lake Tahoe area.

Aspen Skiing Co already owns the Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk resorts.

The purchase gives the North America snowsports industry a huge new player.

"It has the potential to bring significant advantages and be very positive as it should bring simplicity to lift ticket sales and improved joined-up thinking that can only benefit the consumer," said the Managing Director of Ski Independence, Michael Bennett.

Ski Independence is a UK operator that specialises in ski holidays across the USA and Canada - see here for further details.

It is a change of direction for Aspen that had focused on its smaller size and specialist operation.

There have been a few rumours and some insiders see the move as inevitable following the successful path taken by Vail Resorts, but it has taken most by surprise.

Vail Resorts has been purchasing resorts in recent years like it is going out of fashion.

It recently acquired Stowe in Vermont on the east coast of the USA - see here for our story from the time.

And then there was the small matter of buying Whistler, the most successful resort in North America for $1bn.

See here for our report when the deal went through.

Prior to that it bought Park City in Utah in September 2014 and created the largest resort in the USA as it merged with the neighbouring resort of The Canyons that it already controlled.

But what will this all mean for British skiers and snowboarders who head across the pond to ski in the USA and Canada?

In the first instance probably not very much as lift ticket prices will remain the same and most British visitors just buy a single pass for their visit but, if they are planning multi-resort trips, then it will have an impact.

"It is very early days  and nothing will change in the short-term and I hope they will create a multi-resort ticket at a sensible price for people that want to visit a number of resorts, but also have a single resort ticket that offers good value for those British skiers who just want to visit a single resort," said Michael Bennett from Ski Independence.

PlanetSKI was in North America last winter on a 4-week road trip taking in many resorts across the USA and Canada - see here for our blog from the time.

There are likely to be longer term changes too.

Some British tour operators hope it will lead to better co-operation and pricing.

Aspen and Mont Tremblant are popular with British skiers and some head to Squaw Valley but otherwise numbers are small to the acquired ski resorts.

It does though signify a significant move for the whole of the North America snowsports industry and both stables will likely make further purchases in the years to come.

There are no immediate plans to change lift ticket prices or amenities at any of the acquired resorts said Aspen Skiing Co. in a statement. 

This, though, will change and it is likely there will be a lift pass similar to the Epic Pass of Vail Resorts that allows people to ski across all the resorts in the company.

Aspen and some of the resorts are already in the Mountain Collective group of resorts that rival Vail Resorts - see here for an earlier PlanetSKI report on the rivalry as prices for next season were announced.

Vail Resorts runs Vail, Breckenridge, Beaver Creek and Keystone in Colorado with a reciprocal lift ticket deal with Arapahoe Basin.

It controls Park City Mountain Resort in Utah plus Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar in the Lake Tahoe area.

It also owns Perisher in Australia and has reciprocal lift ticket arrangements with many resorts in Europe including Verbier, St Anton and the resorts of Les3Vallees.

It means that in the USA most of the main resorts are now controlled by either Vail Resorts or the Aspen Skiing Co.

One notable exception is Jackson Hole in Wyoming - see here for a report on the resort when PlanetSKI visited last winter.

Canadian resorts  still have a range of owners but it will be interesting to see if any change of ownership is in prospect for resorts like Lake Louise, Sunshine, Kicking Horse, Panorama and Fernie around Calgary. 

Then there is Revelstoke in central British Columbia and Sun Peaks further west.

Here at PlanetSKI we will be watching things carefully.

Two decades ago it was somewhat different at the 2 resorts co-operated.

Here's an advert from the Ski Independence brochure for 1996/97 that one of our readers has sent in to us:

Times changeTimes change

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Press release from Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Resorts to be Acquired by Affiliates of Aspen Skiing Company and KSL Capital Partners From Starwood Capital Group

Aspen and Denver, Colorado, April 12, 2017 - Mammoth Resorts, the owner of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Snow Summit, Bear Mountain and June Mountain, today announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by a newly formed entity controlled by affiliates of the Aspen Skiing Company, L.L.C. ("Aspen") and KSL Capital Partners, LLC ("KSL"). A Starwood Capital Group controlled affiliate owns a majority interest in Mammoth Resorts. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the third quarter of 2017, and is subject to certain closing conditions, including regulatory approvals. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. KSL and Aspen previously announced plans to acquire Intrawest Resorts Holdings, Inc. through this new entity.

"Mammoth has been Southern California's mountain home since 1948," said Rusty Gregory, Chairman and CEO of Mammoth Resorts. "After doubling down on our offerings to Southern California with the purchase of Snow Summit and Bear Mountain in 2014, joining this new venture led by Aspen and KSL is the next logical chapter in the story of Mammoth Resorts. This new platform, built around a collective passion for the mountains and our commitment to the people who visit, work and live there, is exactly what the ski resort business needs. I am excited about the future prospects for Mammoth Resorts, our people and this new enterprise."

"We have taken great pride in our ownership of Mammoth over the last 12 years. We invested in the mountains, our people, and planning for the long term future. Together with Mammoth's talented management team, we successfully navigated a very tumultuous period. We implemented state-of-the-art marketing programs, installed modern RFID technology to improve traffic flow, and we added significant new lift capacity. By also acquiring and integrating Bear Mountain and Snow Summit into Mammoth we cemented Mammoth Resorts' position as the leading provider of ski and summer mountain experiences for all of Southern California," said Barry Sternlicht, Chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group. "We had greater plans for Mammoth but the Great Recession and then some less favorable weather, interfered with our strategic aspirations in a finite life investment vehicle. We know Aspen and KSL have the experience, commitment, and balance sheet to help make our vision a reality."

"If you live in Southern California and want to ski, Mammoth, June, Bear and Snow Summit universally come to mind first," said Eric Resnick, CEO of KSL. "This transaction will allow the combined company to better serve Mammoth's loyal customers while at the same time exposing these world-class resorts to a broader audience. Mammoth Resorts does so many things well. We are excited to learn from their talented team."

"Mammoth is a special place. The landscape is spectacular, the mountain is phenomenal and the place is in constant motion. Whether it's the vibrant park and pipe scene, the high quality alpine racing programs, or excellent mountain biking, Mammoth has it all," said Mike Kaplan, CEO of Aspen. "At the same time, Bear and Snow Summit serve local skiers perhaps better than anyone in the industry with high quality skiing and riding right on the doorstep of Southern California. We couldn't be more pleased to work with these extraordinary properties."

Below we reproduce the statement released by the Aspen Skiing Co.:

From Aspen/Snowmass:

"Aspen Skiing Company has been exploring ways to grow the company for some time. We are thrilled to announce that we have taken just such a step by partnering with an affiliate of KSL Capital Partners, LLC (KSL) to acquire Intrawest Resort Holdings. KSL is our partner in Snowmass Base Village and also owns Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. Together, we are forming a new entity to acquire this incredible collection of resorts, run by a capable and committed management team. Intrawest, headquartered in Denver, owns Steamboat and operates Winter Park in Colorado. The company also has several resorts in the East, including Snowshoe, WV, Stratton Mountain, VT, Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Blue Mountain, Ontario, as well as Canadian Mountain Holidays, British Columbia, and the management of several condominium hotel properties.

Each resort has a strong sense of place with incredible passion and commitment from their employees and loyal guests. 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.

As we embark on this new adventure, it's our shared commitment and values-based approach alongside our new partners that will continue to grow our business, offer new opportunities to employees and make the company, the sport and the lifestyle sustainable for many years to come. Fundamental to this announcement is our ongoing dedication to maintaining and building upon what is special and unique about Aspen Snowmass. 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."

Here at PlanetSKI we will be updating this article with further reaction shortly.

For further details see this article in The Denver Post.

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the world of snowsports.

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