Resort company to focus on mountains
on the horizon
Vail Resorts owns or operates 11 ski areas, and the company owns a lot of land at those areas. Two parcels with the most potential are:
• The current parking areas at Park City, Utah.
• Ever Vail, just west of Lionshead in Vail.
VAIL — Doing one thing very well is hard. Doing multiple things very well is even harder. That’s why Vail Resorts’ approach to real estate development is changing.
Real estate was a big part of the business plan even when Vail Resorts was Vail Associates and the company ran just one big ski resort. Over the years, the company has developed luxury projects across its growing corporate map, from Tahoe to Breckenridge and every place in between.
But at a meeting on Monday of the Vail Homeowners Association, company president Rob Katz told the audience that Vail Resorts is trying a new approach as its resort holdings grow.
“We now own 11 ski resorts, and we hope to own more,” Katz said. “The challenge has been real estate development. It would be hard for us to be the primary developer in all those markets.”
Katz noted that real estate development is a very expensive business. “We’d rather spend our money on the mountains,” he said. “That’s where our money, focus and attention should go.”
With that renewed focus on the mountains, Katz said Vail Resorts in the future will seek out third-party developers for projects.
“We’re going to work with communities to find the best developers and put together what works best for all of us,” Katz said, adding that in the past, perhaps “90 percent” of all the company’s conflicts with communities stems from disputes over development projects.
“Now we can sit on the same side as communities,” Katz said, adding that if communities need better parking, or transit, or other improvements, then the resort company can work with a developer to create good solutions.
Kristin Kenney Williams, who has worked for Vail Resorts in Vail on the Ever Vail project, said the idea is to create a “collaboration” between communities, the company and developers.
“We’re getting creative in how they do that.”
Harry Frampton is one of the partners in East West Partners, a development company that does a lot of work in resort areas. He’s also one of the partners in Slifer Smith & Frampton, the valley’s biggest real estate company.
Frampton said the idea Katz talked about in Vail isn’t exactly new. But, he added, the idea is welcome, for both shareholders — Frampton is one — and communities.
“When you look at the real estate business and the skiing and hospitality business, they’re both hard, complex businesses,” Frampton said. “It’s hard to be great at two businesses.”
Since Vail Resorts’ core business is skiing and resorts, that’s where the company should focus its efforts.
“That’s good for communities, that the company will re-invest in meaningful ways,” Frampton said. “And they’ll get a better return on their money has a resort/hospitality operator. This will take what they do and improve on it.”
And, while Katz said Vail Resorts will continue to be intimately involved in any future projects, Frampton said not having the company’s name on a development could make projects slightly less expensive.
“Vail Resorts is so visible,” he said. “When they try to do real estate, communities may impose more (requirements) than they would on a smaller company.”
Sometimes, Frampton said, those requirements can make a project unfeasible to build.
While Katz touted the company’s new direction on development, Frampton said he doesn’t expect any large projects to start any time soon.
“The economics have to make sense,” Frampton said. “In Vail, (building Ever Vail) will require prices to go up a lot before building anything.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.