Deal gives new Aspen Skiing Co.-KSL Capital Partners alliance more than 6,000 acres of southern California ski terrain and challenges Vail Resorts’ dominance in season pass sales.
The new Aspen Skiing Co.-KSL Capital Partners alliance is buying the Eastern Sierra’s Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, giving the nascent partnership more than 6,000 acres of southern California ski terrain across four resorts that host more than 2 million visits a year. No price was announced, but in 2005 the resort traded hands for $365 million.
Rusty Gregory, the longtime manager and chief executive of Mammoth Resorts, in a statement called the move “the next logical chapter in the story of Mammoth.”
“This new platform, built around a collective passion for the mountains and our commitment to the people who visit, work and live there, is exactly what the ski resort business needs,” Gregory said.
Dropping a mere two days after Aspen Skiing and Denver private equity firm KSL Capital Partners announced they were partnering on a $1.5 billion deal for Intrawest Resort Holdings‘ six ski areas — including Winter Park and Steamboat — Wednesday’s news is nothing short of a shot across the bow of industry giant Vail Resorts.
It was no secret that Vail chief Rob Katz had long pined for Mammoth, with its drive-up proximity to southern California’s more than 23 million residents promising to turbo-charge sales of his company’s popular Epic Pass. It is almost inevitable that the new, yet unnamed partnership between KSL Capital Partners, which owns California’s Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows ski area, and Aspen Skiing, which owns four ski areas in Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, will be offering a season pass that will include Aspen Snowmass, Squaw Alpine, Steamboat, Winter Park, Quebec’s Mont Tremblant, Vermont’s Stratton, Ontario’s Blue Mountain and West Virginia’s Snowshoe ski areas.
Maybe not for 2017-18, but a pass rivaling the $869 Epic Pass for 2018-19 seems certain, according to sources close to the deal. In a resort industry that is swiftly abandoning a reliance on real estate sales, season pass revenue is the proven financial engine, as shown by Vail Resorts.
But the previously undisputed dominance of Vail Resorts is threatened with this upstart union of industry veterans. In two days time, Vail Resorts went from virtually invincible in the season pass game — with its newly acquired Whistler Blackcomb and Stowe ski areas opening up new geographic markets on both coasts to grow Epic Pass sales beyond last season’s 650,000 — to nearly matched in a pass battle that will define the rapidly consolidating resort industry. The rivalry between Aspen Skiing-KSL Capital Partners and Vail Resorts will sculpt the industry’s development for decades.
Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass offers unlimited skiing at more than 40,000 acres spread across 11 major resorts in British Columbia, California, Colorado, Utah and Vermont, not counting three urban resorts in the Midwest. A pass offered by Aspen Skiing-KSL Capital Partners would deliver skiing on more than 25,500 acres spread across 15 resorts in four states and Canada.
Aspen Snowmass said earlier this week it was retaining separate operations, while the Intrawest resorts would be folded into the new company. KSL Capital’s Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows resort in the Lake Tahoe region will remain under existing management but will be part of the new partnership with Aspen Skiing.