Vail Resorts buys Stowe Mountain Resort | VailDaily.com

Vail Resorts buys Stowe Mountain Resort

BROOMFIELD — There had been rumblings for several weeks that Vail Resorts was ready to purchase Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont. Those rumblings became a reality Tuesday, but Epic Passes won't be good at Stowe until the coming ski season.

Just before 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time, Vail Resorts announced it had on Friday entered into a $50 million deal to purchase the ski resort from current owner Mt. Mansfield Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of American International Group — AIG. The deal marks Vail Resorts' first acquisition of an East Coast ski resort.

According to a release, the deal includes mountain operations including skier services of food, retail and rental operations. The lift ticket offices and ski school facilities are also included in the deal.

The release stated that the "vast majority" of the resort's year-round staff would be retained, and that hiring for the winter and summer seasons would continue as it has.

When the deal closes — a transaction subject to approval by Vermont state officials — Vail Resorts' Epic Pass products will be honored at the resort. The company expects that to happen in the 2017-18 ski season.

That came as good news to Tommy Gardner, a reporter at the Stowe Reporter newspaper.

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Bringing the Epic Pass programs to Stowe "is basically going to halve the price of skiing at Stowe — and you get all the western resorts," Gardner said.

Nervous about the future

That said, Gardner said employees he'd talked to Tuesday were nervous about their futures at the resort. Vail Resorts Tuesday evening was set to host a town hall-type meeting for employees.

Amy Morrison is the executive director of the Stowe Area Association, the regional destination marketing organization. That group is similar to a chamber of commerce.

In an email, Morrison wrote "AIG and Stowe Mountain Resort have been excellent partners in the Stowe community," adding that she believes Vail Resorts' purchase of the resort will "have a positive impact on our community and guest experience."

Vail Resorts for the past few years has focused more on guest experiences and less on real estate. According to the release, Mt. Mansfield Corporation will retain ownership of Stowe Mountain Lodge — a 312-room hotel — Stowe Country Club and other real estate holdings.

Staying out of Stowe's real estate and development business fits with Vail Resorts' current direction. The company a few years ago announced it will no longer develop property on its own.

"I see Vail Resorts as being like a cruise ship operator," longtime Vail Realtor Ron Byrne said. "They know how to run a mountain" and its related operations.

Big potential market

Epic Pass products have become a significant part of that operation. As much as 40 percent of Vail Resorts' lift revenue comes from Epic Passes.

In a December earnings call about the company's first quarter performance — the company's fiscal year is Aug. 1-July 31 — Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz said pass sales had grown 16 percent over the same period in the prior fiscal year. That increase also came with a 20 percent increase in pass revenue.

The company expects to sell more than 650,000 Epic Passes of all types in this fiscal year.

During that December earnings call, Katz said he expects pass sales will receive a boost from the company's 2016 acquisition of the Whistler Blackcomb ski areas in British Columbia.

While Whistler Blackcomb is the largest ski resort in Canada, and draws visitors from both the domestic and international markets, Gardner said he expects Stowe skiers to also take advantage of Epic Passes when they become available for that resort.

"We're maybe the most expensive resort in North America," Gardner said. The chance to use the Epic Pass may in fact be overriding the anxiety that comes when ownership changes at a town's main attraction.

And Stowe's destination market is potentially huge.

In a text message Vail Valley Partnership President Chris Romer noted that Stowe draws a lot of guests from the Boston area and the rest of New England.

"The draw of the Epic Pass for that market gives us an upper hand on (that region's) destination ski trips," Romer wrote. "In my opinion, in many ways it's as (or more) impactful than Whistler."

Morrison wrote that Vail Resorts' reputation as a resort operator is a big factor in optimism about the deal. Morrison wrote she expects Vail Resorts' ownership to "bolster the Stowe brand and increase tourism traffic."

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

Over the years:

Here’s a look at Vail Resorts’ acquisitions since 2010:

2010: The company acquired a long-term lease at Northstar At Tahoe.

2012: The company purchased Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mount Brighton in Michigan.

2012: The company acquired Kirkwood Mountain Resort in the Lake Tahoe area.

2013: Vail Resorts announced a 50-year lease of Canyons Resort near Park City.

2014: Vail Resorts acquired Park City Mountain Resort.

2015: The company purchased the Perisher Ski Resort in Australia.

2016: Vail Resorts purchased Wilmont Mountain in Wisconsin.

2016: The company announced the purchase of the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort.

2017: Vail Resorts announced the purchase of Stowe Mountain Resort.

Vail Resorts stock price was $182.69 at the end of the Feb. 21 trading day, up $2.69.