Vail Resorts to buy Midwest ski areas |

Vail Resorts to buy Midwest ski areas

BRUCE BISPING • Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune.
JM – Star Tribune | Star Tribune

BROOMFIELD, Colorado – Vail Resorts Thursday announced agreements to purchase two urban ski areas in the Midwest, Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mount Brighton in Michigan. The announced sale price for both is $20 million.

According to a press release from Vail Resorts, the ski areas serve markets with more than 468,000 active skiers and snowboarders in the Minneapolis-St. Paul and Detroit metropolitan areas.

The report stated Vail Resorts plans to upgrade and enhance the ski areas, ” … and create opportunities to connect guests from each of these ski areas to its seven world-class resorts in Colorado and Lake Tahoe through season pass and other lift ticket products.”

There are direct flights during ski season from Minneapolis to the Eagle County airport, as well as numerous flights into Denver International Airport from both cities.

“We are thrilled to welcome Afton Alps and Mount Brighton to the Vail Resorts family,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts. “These acquisitions are part of a new strategy for Vail Resorts to drive season pass sales and build broader guest loyalty by looking at premier smaller ski areas located near major urban markets. We plan to bring state-of-the-art racing, terrain parks, coaching and technology to the guest experience. We also will connect these urban ski areas to our world-class resorts in Colorado, California and Nevada with new season pass offerings, providing the chance to experience the best skiing and riding locally and in the West.”

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Jerry Jones, a longtime ski industry insider, said Vail Resorts’ strategy is known as using “farm system” smaller ski areas to bring skiers to destination resorts.

That attempt to draw skiers from Afton Alps and Mount Brighton starts with an immediate 25 percent discount on Vail Resorts’ ski areas. Conversely, Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass this season is good at both the smaller ski areas.

Vail Resorts also plans to upgrade the on-mountain and base area experience at each ski area. The press release announcing the sale stated that improvements will include ” … redesigned and updated terrain parks, best-in-class coaching and instruction for all levels of skiers and riders, dedicated racing programs, expanded dining and entertainment options at the base area, and integrated technology and social media programs like EpicMix, EpicMix Photo and EpicMix Racing.”

The release also stated that the company will improve snowmaking, parking and access, and is “reviewing opportunities to add new summer activities. “

According to the release, Afton Alps is the largest ski area near a major city in the Midwest with 48 trails on nearly 300 acres, 18 lifts, four base areas, night skiing and riding, tubing and an 18-hole golf course. Afton Alps is located 33 miles from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

Mount Brighton has 26 trails on 130 acres, six lifts, night skiing and riding and an 18-hole golf course. The ski area is located 43 miles from Detroit.

Vail Resorts is planning season pass products for both Afton Alps and Mount Brighton in time for the 2013-2014 season pass sales period, beginning in March. In the meantime, to welcome both ski areas into the Vail Resorts family, Afton Alps and Mount Brighton season pass holders will immediately receive a 25 percent discount off of the window rate on lift tickets at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood this season.

“This may be an opportunity for (Vail Resorts) to develop more business at those areas, and could change those skiers into destination skiers,” Jones said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott N. Miller contributed to this report.

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