Aspen Skiing Co.’s sister company ramps up competition with Vail Resorts
The Aspen Times
Countermoves are coming fast and furious in the ski industry by a sister firm of Aspen Skiing Co.
Vail Resorts made the first big moves a few seasons ago with the acquisitions of Stowe, Vermont; Whistler-Blackcomb, B.C.; and Park City, Utah. Now a sister firm of Aspen Skiing Co. is quickly catching up with equally splashy acquisitions.
An affiliate of Henry Crown and Co., which owns Aspen Skiing Co., and KSL Capital Partners announced Monday they reached an agreement to purchase Deer Valley Resort. They anticipate finalizing the deal by the start of ski season for an undisclosed amount.
The proposed deal leaves Skico’s sister company with 13 resorts in its lineup — plus an affiliation with Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk. The joint venture purchased Intrawest Resort Holdings and Mammoth Resorts in earlier transactions. KSL brought Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in California into the fold from previous ownership.
The 13 resorts combine for about 22,000 skiable acres of terrain.
David Perry, Skico’s former second-in-command and president and chief operating officer of the new firm, said Deer Valley is a “tremendous addition to our existing portfolio.”
“Prior to this acquisition, we were able to offer our guests exceptional experiences throughout most of North America’s major ski regions, but we did not have a resort in Utah, a state that is renowned for great skiing and mountain-town life,” Perry said in a prepared statement.
Vail Resorts has 14 ski areas in its mix — ranging from gargantuan Whistler-Blackcomb to Midwest feeder Afton Alps. It snatched up ski areas at a dizzying pace earlier this decade and appeared to be an unchallenged heavyweight of the ski industry.
Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan said in a public presentation in 2015 that consolidation was a trend Skico ownership and staff was watching and prepared to act on. His comments foreshadowed the Crowns’ moves.
“The main point is, it’s more competitive than it’s ever been on all sides of our business and we need to be aware of that, focused on that and treat it with a sense of urgency,” Kaplan said.
Skico’s sister company, which remains unnamed, has its bases covered in Colorado — with Steamboat and Winter Park — and in California, where it owns six resorts, including Mammoth, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.
What it lacked until now was a foothold in Utah, one of the top states in the country for skier visits. The 14 ski areas in Utah logged their best season ever in 2016-17 with 4.58 million skier and snowboarder visits.
Deer Valley has a reputation for setting the bar for customer service and luxury in the ski industry. It limits the number of skiers on the hill at busy times. It offers ski valets and free parking.
It’s also among the handful of resorts in the country that doesn’t allow snowboard riding on its slopes.
“There are no plans to allow snowboarding at this time,” said an FAQ posted on the Deer Valley Resort website Monday.
Vail Resorts already had a major presence in Utah with its acquisition of Park City in September 2014. It combined the resort with the Canyons, another of its holdings.
An FAQ posted on the Deer Valley resort blog asked why KSL Capital Partners and Henry Crown and Co. are interested in Deer Valley.
“This transaction allows the new company to reach skiers and vacationers that desire to ski and travel to Utah, one of the premier ski destinations in North America,” the company answered. “This acquisition will benefit the skiing public by providing Utah skiers an option in their state and destination options within a larger portfolio of resorts; it also provides guests at the other 12 resorts another destination with premier skiing.”
The blog also states that while Aspen Skiing Co. will remain independent, “We will explore opportunities to work together when and where it is appropriate.”
One of those areas of cooperation could be a joint ski pass. The FAQ provided by the ski conglomerate on Deer Valley’s blog asks, “Will Aspen Snowmass be involved in a joint pass in the future?” The answer was, “This is open to discussion and consideration in the future.”