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Ski Resort Consolidations: Yay or Nay?

Discussion in 'Resorts, Conditions & Travel' started by ski diva, Apr 12, 2017.

  1. ski diva

    ski diva Administrator Staff Member

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    In recent weeks, the ski world has been rocked by a number of acquisitions: Vail bought Stowe, Aspen-KSL bought Intrawest, then Mammoth, June, Bear and Snow Summit.

    We've talked about consolidations before in this thread, which was pretty much all about Vail. And I've talked about it on my blog, which you can read here. But given all the recent developments, I thought I'd start a new thread to just talk about consolidations, in general. I mean, how do you feel about all this?

    I found the following video excerpt on Mountain Riders Alliance's Facebook page, and I thought it was pretty interesting. It's an excerpt from a film called Resorting to Madness made in 2006 about consolidations and what they can mean for the ski industry. Hal Clifford, who's speaking here, is a former real estate editor for SKI magazine and the author of a book called Downhill Slide, which examines why the corporate world is bad for the skiing, ski towns, and the environment. Although the book came out out in 2003, it's still a fascinating read. Some of the material is dated, but a lot of it still rings true.

     
  2. veronicarella

    veronicarella Ski Diva Extraordinaire

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    Depends.

    If two smaller resorts join forces (for example, Squaw and Alpine Meadows), the consumers benefit by having access to more terrain without cost increase as there are still many other resorts in the region (Tahoe) to ensure competition.

    However, as the consolidation trend continues, we're looking at resorts that either have monopoly or oligopoly. The ski industry is starting to look a lot like the airline industry: Underpaid employees and diminished consumer influence/rights.
     
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  3. Christy

    Christy Angel Diva

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    It's easy to think of all the possible negatives. I suppose depends a lot on who is running the place. Stevens Pass is owned by a NYC hedge fund that owns a bunch of other ski areas and they are widely blamed for running the place into the ground. They seem to care only about squeezing every possible dollar out of Stevens (so I'm told, but this view aligns with what I've seen. For example not running most lifts on weekdays and lodge buildings in disrepair). Boyne runs Crystal Mt but since John and Kim Kircher live here and run it, it feels like a family owned resort.

    I do worry about Sun Valley. That was the Holding's pet project and they cared about it tremendously. Now with Mr. Holding gone and Mrs. Holding getting up there is years, everyone is worried. But I'm told Mrs. Holding announced at the company Xmas party that she is passing down ownership to her grandkids, and they won't be able to sell until they are all a certain age. They are mostly teens now. I'm a little unclear about just how old they have to be--that could only be 10 years away. SV really does feel like a family owned resort that cares a lot about the customer rather than about wringing every penny they can out of us. I would hate to see that change.
     
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  4. NewEnglandSkier

    NewEnglandSkier Ski Diva Extraordinaire

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    On the whole I'm not a big fan of consolidation. It seems like an opportunity for a lot of the little guys to get shut out. Also since different companies have different management styles, if there are only a few dominant players everything can start to seem the same pretty quickly.
    As far as the Aspen/KSL venture, I'm skeptical of the private equity involvement (KSL). In my albeit limited observation of private equity, they seem to like to wring every possible penny out of a business and not necessarily improve it. They buy it, chew it up and spit it out a few years later not necessarily for the better.
     
  5. Jilly

    Jilly Moderator Staff Member

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    This is something us Canadian are not used to. I can think of 3 consolidations. First one was Whistler and Blackcomb joining forces. Whistler was there long before Intrawest started Blackcomb. Not sure of the year for that. Then here in the east...Mont Saint Saveur International. At one time MSSI owned Edelweiss (Ottawa), Mont St Saveur, Jay Peak, and something in France and one of the Barrie Ontario areas. Then they divested themselves of Jay, France and the Ontario resort. They bought the rest of the ridge at St Saveur. They still own Edelweiss. Then there is RCR...Resorts of the Canadian Rockies. This group owns, Fernie, Kicking Horse, Kimberley, Nakiska, Mont Ste Anne (QC) and Stoneham (QC).

    The only one that offered an all resort pass was WB. Because they were connected now. MSSI might have a Saveur pass...SkiBam do you know? RCR has a west pass, but it doesn't include the Quebec based resorts.

    NES - mentions that private equity companies, "chew it up and spit it out". Well for the last number of years, Fortress has owned Intrawest. They didn't do anything but divest themselves of WB to private investors. They did nothing at Tremblant except to keep it running. Nothing major has happened in years. So I know I'm looking forward to see what they do. Since I've never had an opportunity to purchase something like an EpicPass, I'm looking for to getting more skiing for my money.

    As for consolidations, in my work world this has been happening for the last 20 years. In the long run, there will be only 5 major companies. But that is still enough to have good competition.
     
  6. MaineSkiLady

    MaineSkiLady Angel Diva

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    Very ambivalent, toss a coin, 49/51. There certainly will be pluses - and minuses.

    I live in a very much forgotten corner of New England, where even the biggest ski resorts are forever on the line of despair - Saddleback has been closed for the last 2 seasons, and its future is still uncertain. Perhaps it would be great up here, but no one is holding their collective breaths for it to ever happen...<sigh> Meanwhile, infrastructure ages and fails...:frown:
     
  7. mustski

    mustski Ski Diva Extraordinaire

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    Like most of you, I have mixed feelings. Big Bear Mountain Resorts had a much nicer vibe before Mammoth took over. The "improvements," which cost a bundle, were mostly a re-arrangement of facilities and a new BBQ venue. They moved ski patrol over here and kids ski school to there, etc. The new charge for parking causes nasty gridlock and nobody can get in and out of town so the town is hurting because nobody tries to shop or go to lunch/dinner anymore. They fired the entire management team and business office - many of whom were 25 yr employees who started straight out of high school. What Mammoth let happen at June Mt. is downright criminal! My point is this- once a corporation takes over, I'm not sure it matters which one. Aspen wants to stop Vail in it's tracks. Vail has some nice holdings in Tahoe and that Epic pass is one heck of a good deal. If Vail had bought Big Bear, it would have been the death of Mammoth. Aspen enters the picture and increases competition which might be a good thing. I'm in the glass half full camp and will wait to see.

    As for consolidation, I would prefer to see resorts partnering up with each other and resisting corporate take over.
     
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  8. newboots

    newboots Angel Diva

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    I feel very concerned about the corporate takeovers. We've seen competition decrease and the demise of mom-and-pop grocery stores, pharmacies, and lumber yards. Prices are lower, but so is quality. Nobody's prices beat my grandparents' during the Great Depression. They gave food away in their corner grocery to people who couldn't buy it. You won't see that at Walmart or Price Chopper.

    As to ski areas, I confess I have a preference for cocoa over beer, a view of the trees instead of loud music on the lift line, and an informal lodge where kids run around and equipment is piled everywhere over a big place with no soul. This is who I am, and so it's nearly inevitable that I'm going to prefer the small, privately owned ski areas over impersonal big resorts.

    I would hate to lose more small hills to corporate giants, or just lose them altogether. I hope community ski areas make a comeback. It's a whole different experience. To each her own!
     
  9. sibhusky

    sibhusky Ski Diva Extraordinaire

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    I am in dread of it here. It's not like a consolidation would get me anything. I live 16 minutes from this resort. Next closest areas are 1:45 to 2 hours away and they are not part of either Aspen or Vail. It's a cinch I wouldn't get up two hours earlier to drive to them and then have to drive two hours home. So, all it'll do is bring more traffic here. We had record visitation this year, so they don't need the traffic to survive. They are making money, steadily upgrading facilities, etc. Lift ticket prices are way below other places for walk ups. So all I see is negatives with being bought out.
     
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  10. Christy

    Christy Angel Diva

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    That's interesting you had record visitation – – do you know why? Whitefish isn't on the mountain collective or epic pass, and nearly everyone had a great year.

    I know I've said this before but my blood runs cold when I think about Crystal being bought by an even large corporation and being incorporated into one of these passes.
     
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  11. Christy

    Christy Angel Diva

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  12. ski diva

    ski diva Administrator Staff Member

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  13. Christy

    Christy Angel Diva

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    Yes, he is in that family, and he bought Crystal from Boyne Resorts Inc. I've no idea how ownership is structured, and if he already had a share of it (I've never heard that he did, I always just thought he was GM in a corporation founded by his family). Which I think makes it particularly interesting...I wonder why a) he wanted to own it and b) Boyne was willing to let it go.

    ETA: It appears Boyne is still privately held/family run and John is director of western operations. So now I really wonder why he wanted it out under from Boyne ownership. Maybe he wasn't free to run it as he wanted, and maybe his profits didn't get to stay here? From the press release:

    “The fact that Crystal Mountain is now the only locally owned and owner-managed ski operation runs totally counter to the corporatizing trends in the ski business. The number of large resorts that are locally owned and managed can be counted on maybe one hand. It’s a small fraction of the business. Crystal has done very well over time and now we are free to re-invest our dollars with complete concentration here to make Crystal Mountain the best ski and summer resort in the Northwest.”
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2017
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  14. ski diva

    ski diva Administrator Staff Member

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    I wrote a piece about the resort consolidations and published it my blog today. You can find it here.
     
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  15. Jenny

    Jenny Ski Diva Extraordinaire

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    Maybe Boyne is selling to someone but they wanted to keep Crystal in the family?
     
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  16. marzNC

    marzNC Angel Diva

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    My reading of an April 18 article in a Seattle paper is that John wants to pull back and focus on Crystal. He has a lot of plans for the near future, including more snowmaking, lights, and extended hours during weekends and holidays. What's not clear is whether or not he will continue to head Boyne Western Operations.

    http://www.seattletimes.com/busines...untain-ski-resort-bought-by-longtime-manager/

    * * * excerpt
    Kircher, 59, for years oversaw the western operations of Boyne, which spanned Washington, Utah and British Columbia. It was he who led the purchase in 1997 of the Crystal Mountain ski area from a group of 850 shareholders.

    But in late March he swapped out his shares in Boyne for complete ownership of the resort, where he has lived for two decades.

    “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time,” Kircher said in an interview. “You can get 100 percent of all the fun of being in the ski business from one place rather than multiple resorts. So I’m kind of scaling back, concentrating on one place I really enjoy.”

    * * *
     
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  17. veronicarella

    veronicarella Ski Diva Extraordinaire

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    That was my speculation too when I read the press release.
     
  18. Christy

    Christy Angel Diva

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    That Times article must have gone up this afternoon--thanks for the head's up. It all sounds pretty good...Crystal already has approval from the Forest Service for a number of things but I don't remember those projects, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

    Hopefully this means Crystal is safe from the prowling wolves for now at least.
     
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  19. snowski/swimmouse

    snowski/swimmouse Angel Diva

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    Thanks, @skidiva for the takeover info + the connection to MRA. Good info and I can see myself supporting the MRA ideal. I just want to ski (and at reasonable rates). The heck with the off slope ammenities! And sustainable energy is good for everyone. Community involvement is good for all, too.
     
  20. sibhusky

    sibhusky Ski Diva Extraordinaire

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    Well, the last record was just two seasons back, a "bad year", so it's been a trend. I think we've been consistently over performing* in the SKI magazine surveys, plus lots of advertising in single flight markets like Minneapolis and Seattle. The interesting thing is, we've had a huge drop in Canadians with the strong dollar. There are still plenty, after all a lot of them bought houses here during the real estate downturn. But we are not as inundated with them. So, we're drawing from elsewhere. For all I know it's just the PR lady, because I feel like it's since she came onboard. Pricing might have something to do with it as well. We have a real reputation for value and friendliness. (Apparently good enough to make people forget about the one we have for fog.)

    Some stats:
    * I personally would not rank us where we get ranked.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2017