Vail Resorts has sold about 925,000 passes of all kinds for this ski season | VailDaily.com

Vail Resorts has sold about 925,000 passes of all kinds for this ski season

BROOMFIELD — Early-season snow in Colorado and strong pass sales led the news from a mostly upbeat Vail Resorts quarterly earnings call on Friday, Dec. 7.

The conference call — which included a Q&A session with analysts — was held to discuss the company's performance in the first quarter of its fiscal year, which runs from Aug. 1 to July 31.

Company CEO Rob Katz said company officials are "pleased" with first-quarter results, particularly in terms of pass sales.

Following the previous two years, both of which set records for pass sales, sales for the 2018-2019 season were up 21 percent in units sold and 13 percent in revenue.

While the dollar gains lagged the unit gains, Katz said much of that can be attributed to sales of heavily discounted passes for military members, their families and veterans.

Katz said the military passes are a way to make the company's resorts more accessible. The passes, he said, are a "meaningful business opportunity," as well as a way to build a customer base and loyalty.

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Improvements abound

Part of building customer loyalty also includes improvements to guest experience, Katz said. To that end, Katz announced a number of coming improvements to the company's resorts, although Vail Resorts' full capital improvement plans won't be announced until March of 2019, but Katz gave a quick rundown of what's coming to the firm's resorts, including:

• New dining options at Park City, and The Canyons in Utah.

• A new lift and snowmaking in Perisher, Australia.

• Improvements to the Peak 8 base area at Breckenridge.

Locally, Vail Resorts recently received U.S. Forest Service approval for improvements at Beaver Creek's McCoy Park.

New snowmaking at several resorts is also part of the plan. Katz said new snowmaking systems will give the company "earlier, more predictable early season" conditions. At Vail, that could mean opening as much as a week earlier than usual, thanks to high-elevation snowmaking near Mid-Vail.

At Keystone, new snowmaking could allow the resort to open as soon as three weeks earlier than normal.

Competition is good

During the Q&A portion of the call, Felicia Hendrix, of Barclays, asked Katz about competition from Alterra Mountain Group's Ikon Pass.

Katz said that Vail Resort pays more attention to its own business than what competitors are doing. But, he added, the Ikon Pass has been good for the industry as a whole. That pass reinforces the notion that "if you ski, you should consider a season pass," he said.

With that in mind, Katz told Hendrix he feels "very confident" in Vail Resorts' ability to broaden its current pass programs.

Part of broadening the reach of the Epic passes is the addition of another resort in Japan to the program. Starting in the 2019-20 season, Epic Pass holders can ski for five days at the Rusutsu resort. That's in addition to partnerships with other resorts.

Pass holders will be able to ski 10 days at 11 resorts in Japan.

Responding to a question from analyst Ryan Sundby, Katz said the partnerships with the Japanese resorts create a "strong combination" to pass holders in Australia and North America.

But, Katz added, "We have to continue to innovate."

While Colorado's early season has been its best since the 2010-11 season, Katz said there have been challenges elsewhere. Whistler is short on early snow, he said, as are the resorts in Utah and the Lake Tahoe area of California. Snow in the eastern U.S. is also strong.

At end of the trading day Friday, Vail Resorts stock followed a general downward trend at the New York Stock Exchange. The stock closed at $223.25 per share, a loss of $48.52.

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

By the numbers

21 percent: Year-over-year gain in Epic Pass sales.

925,000: Sales of all types of Vail Resorts ski passes for 2018-2019

100,000: Sales of the new Vail Resorts Epic pass for military members, veterans and families.

$175 million: Estimated cost of Vail Resorts capital improvements in the 2019 fiscal year.

Source: Vail Resorts.