In a recent article, SAM Magazine reports that KSL Capital Partners and Aspen SkiCo will be acquiring Deer Valley Resort, a purchase that continues a recent pattern of “ski resort ownership consolidation” (SAM Magazine). The article goes on to say that, “In just the last six months, the yet-to-be-named joint venture has combined Intrawest, Mammoth Resorts, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, and Aspen Ski Company” (SAM Magazine). And with the recent purchase of Deer Valley, the buying spree doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Previously, Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass was an unrivaled pass option for skiers who wanted to visit and ski at a variety of amazing resorts. But with KSL/SkiCo’s recent acquisitions, the joint-venture is shaping up to be Vail’s biggest competitor in the super-pass market. Although KSL/SkiCo hasn’t released any mega-passes yet for this season, it is certainly a major possibility for next winter.
As with many of these recent purchases, there are some concerns that KSL/SkiCo’s acquisition will result in major changes for Deer Valley, which has been privately owned since the resort opened in 1981 (McCombs). Hopefully, most of these concerns are unwarranted. This is supported in a statement by David Perry, president and COO of the joint venture, saying, “We look forward to working with the staff and Park City community to carry on the traditions that make [Deer Valley] so special” (SAM Magazine).
Like many businesses, ski resort operations are made possible due to business brought in by their guests. Therefore, a major goal of ski resorts is to create more guests by introducing more beginners to the sport of skiing. Children and teens tend to have a pretty easy time joining the sport; many other people their age are beginners too, and their parents pay for their lessons, rentals, and lift tickets. However, it is much more challenging to convince adults to join the sport.
Adults are less likely to join the sport for a variety of reasons. These include fear, high prices, pride, and not having many friends who they can learn with. Fear is caused by the prospect of injury. High prices include the cost of rentals, lift tickets, and lessons. Pride is due to the idea of not being able to keep up or otherwise looking bad in front of their friends. Additionally, it can be difficult to learn or stay motivated without friends who are in the same situation. Even after ski resorts have convinced adult beginners to get on the slopes, retaining them can be difficult. Only 17% of adults return for another day of skiing, and most won’t even tell people they’ve skied previously until they visit a third time. Generally, it takes about five visits for adult beginners to call themselves “skiers”.
Resorts can address these challenges in several ways. First, they can make skiing more affordable, and get adults skiing more often. Many resorts offer packages for new skiers that make this possible. For example, Sunlight Mountain Resort in Colorado offers a $395 package that includes, lift tickets, rentals, and a two-hour lesson for three days. After completing the three days, skiers receive a complimentary five-day lift pass. This helps adults get on the slopes enough times that they are more likely to continue skiing, and it makes skiing more affordable for them. Group lessons and good service has also been shown to increase the likelihood that an adult will continue with the sport.
Running a mountain is an expensive business. The cost of replacing a lift can be in the millions, and even replacing a T-Bar can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. For small mountains that often charge very little for lift tickets, this cost can make operations difficult. However, big resorts have helped make this cost easier to manage. For example, at Titcomb, Sunday River has stepped in and helped cover some costs when Titcomb could not afford them. Sunday River has also donated money so that students at the University of Maine at Farmington can ski at Titcomb for free.
Resorts like Sunday River do this because they recognize the importance of small mountains. Small mountains help grow the sport. The easier, shorter trails and often less-crowded terrain can be much less intimidating to beginners. Local hills also tend to offer prices that make skiing much more affordable, which is important since most beginners are tentative to invest a large amount of money into a sport they’ve never done before. Additionally, small mountains provide a local option for skiers when no large resorts exist nearby.
Larger resorts feel comfortable supporting local hills because their target markets are usually very different. Whereas smaller mountains tend to target beginners, the local community, and customers with a smaller skiing budget, big resorts target customers who are willing to spend more money (often on longer vacations, rather than day visits) in return for diverse and more challenging terrain options and great service. Basically, resorts and local hills aren’t competing with each other. However, local hills can generate more business for resorts. As beginner skiers at small mountains improve, they may look to ski at places where they can challenge themselves more.
And when skiers look for that bigger mountain, where better for them to go than the resort that supported their local hill?