Vail Resorts buys Crested Butte, Sunapee, Stevens Pass in two transactions | VailDaily.com

Vail Resorts buys Crested Butte, Sunapee, Stevens Pass in two transactions

BROOMFIELD — Vail Resorts made a splash a few days before its next earnings report, announcing on Monday, June 4, the purchase of four ski resorts, including Crested Butte.

The acquisitions were two separate deals. The biggest of the two is the purchase of Triple Peaks LLC, the parent company of Crested Butte, Okemo Resort in Vermont and Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire. The announced purchase amount is $82 million.

The second part of the announcement is the purchase — for $67 million — of the Stevens Pass Resort in Washington.

Both purchases are expected to close this summer.

When the deals close, Vail Resorts' Epic Pass products will be valid at all four resorts for the 2018-19 ski season.

"Together, the acquisitions of Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Crested Butte and Stevens Pass will significantly enhance the Vail Resorts network of resort experiences, adding even more variety and choice for all of our passholders and guests," Vail Resorts Chairman and CEO Rob Katz said in a news release about the purchases. "Okemo and Mount Sunapee are terrific complements to Stowe in the Northeast, as is Crested Butte to our four Colorado resorts and Stevens Pass for our Whistler Blackcomb and Seattle guests."

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In the same release, Vail Resorts announced plans to spend $35 million on improvements at the four resorts over the next two years.

'A welcome endeavor'

Gary Huresky is a Realtor and member of the Crested Butte/Mount Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. Huresky said he's looking forward to Vail Resorts' presence in the area.

"There's mixed emotions around town," Huresky said. "But in my opinion, it's a welcome endeavor."

Huresky said the Crested Butte ski area has needed on-mountain improvements for some time. He added that Vail Resorts' marketing muscle could also help bring more people to the area.

"We'll see what happens with the transition … but we're a ski town; let's get folks in here with experience and capital," he said.

Crested Butte is a little hard to get to but has air service through the Gunnison County Airport. Winter service includes direct flights from Dallas, Houston and Denver.

Airport manager Rick Lamport said that airport usually sees 35,000 to 40,000 annual enplanements — passengers arriving or leaving. In comparison, the Eagle County Regional Airport saw just fewer than 165,000 enplanements for the 2016 calendar year.

Vail Resorts' acquisition of Crested Butte will "hopefully spur some interest here," Lamport said.

That interest should come with access to another resort for Epic Pass holders to explore.

A broader strategy

Tom Foley is the senior vice president of business intelligence at Inntopia, a market-research firm and a longtime analyst of the resort industry.

Foley said expanding the reach of the Epic Pass has been a key part of Vail Resorts' strategy for some time.

"It's guaranteed revenue in an industry that some see as having a shrinking weather window," Foley said.

Beyond pass sales, though, Foley said Monday's announcement was evidence of another Vail Resorts strategy, in terms of the kinds of resorts the company is acquiring. That strategy has shifted — with the exception of the Whistler Blackcomb acquisition — from bigger resorts to more "main street" ski areas, Foley said.

Places including Stowe, Vermont, and even Park City, Utah, have a different look and feel than Vail, Beaver Creek or Keystone, Foley said.

But pass sales still drive company strategy. In this case, though, the Epic Pass — and the competing Ikon Pass from Alterra Mountain Resorts — offers skiers and snowboarders an aspirational element to their season pass purchases.

People in Utah, or Vermont or New Hampshire, can jump on a plane and ski or snowboard at any one of a number of resorts across the country, Foley said.

That's what some in Crested Butte are hoping for.

Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce Director Ashley UpChurch said that group believes the move will be positive for the business community.

UpChurch said summer is busy in that area, with growth opportunities in the winter.

"We think it's a good change," UpChurch said.

Not everyone agrees, of course.

A man named Lex who answered the phone at the chamber acknowledged he has mixed emotions about the news.

"Our area's very unique," he said. "I don't want to see it turn into the (Interstate) 70 corridor."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at smiller@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2930.

By the numbers

$82 million: Purchase price of Triple Peaks LLC.

$67 million: Purchase price of Stevens Pass Resort.

$35 million: Expected improvement spending at the four newly purchased resorts over the next two years.

$255.02: Closing price of Vail Resorts stock on Monday, June 4.

Sources: Vail Resorts, Yahoo Finance