Kirsten Lynch begins new role as Vail Resorts CEO
Former CEO Rob Katz moves out of day-to-day operations into new role
It’s official: Vail Resorts has a new CEO.
Kirsten Lynch took on the new position on Monday, the company has confirmed. Lynch was introduced as incoming CEO in August and greeted investors in an earnings call in September where, as pointed out by investment analyst Ben Chaiken, Lynch has “been here forever, so I don’t know if welcome is appropriate, but we’re all excited.”
Lynch joined Vail Resorts as chief marketing officer in 2011. Prior to that she worked for PepsiCo, Kraft Foods and Ford Motor Co. Vail Resorts is the owner/operator of 37 ski areas.
Lynch ran Vail Resorts’ ski pass business prior to starting the CEO role and is credited with leading the vision to drive revenue through a data-driven approach, building the company’s analytics team and data science team.
Outgoing CEO Rob Katz, in a release, said Lynch has an incredible business acumen and is “one of the most passionate, driven leaders I have ever worked with.”
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Strong pass sales
Lynch takes on the role amid an explosion in pass sales — in addition to a 42% increase in units over last year, 2021-22 sales are up a whopping 67% in units and 45% in sales dollars as of mid-September when compared to the 2019-20 season.
Lynch, in the September earnings call, said the strong pass sales show not only the compelling value proposition of the company’s pass products, but the strength of the company’s data-driven marketing initiative.
“We have a very robust database of guests and guest behavior,” Lynch told investors. “So we can look at who is brand new, showing up in our database for the first time.”
Those new people join other customers buying more expensive passes than they purchased last season to account for the boost in sales. Lynch said a new pass holders are divided into three categories.
“There are lapsed pass holders, meaning people who had a pass years ago but not last year, and we’re bringing them back into the portfolio; there’s lapse paid, which would be someone who showed up at one of our resorts on a lift ticket in the past but (didn’t have) a pass, and we’re bringing them into the program; and then there’s brand new,” Lynch said. “All three of those subsegments of new are performing incredibly strong.”
Passing the torch
Vail Resorts reduced prices on its Epic Pass products to 80% of the cost of last year’s passes, bringing the cost of an Epic Pass back to what it cost in 2015-16, before the company acquired Whistler Blackcomb, Stowe Mountain Resort, Crested Butte Mountain Resort and the 17 ski areas known as Peak Resorts.
“I certainly think that the 20% price reduction as well as the incredible network of resorts that we have, and the investments that we’ve made into those resorts and the guest experience, has to be the primary driver of the business impact,” Lynch told investors.
Katz, who is credited with the invention of the company’s transformational Epic Pass in the 2008-09 season, is moving into a role called executive chairperson of the board and intends to remain fully active and engaged in Vail Resorts’ key strategic decisions and priorities.
Katz said throughout his time as CEO, which began in 2006, one of his top priorities has been to identify and prepare the company’s next CEO.
“I’m fully confident Kirsten is that person,” Katz said. “Kirsten is an incredibly skillful leader and developer of talent and has had an amazing track record of building very strong teams.”