When the competition puts up big numbers, either respond or get left behind.
$1.5 billion ought to keep you in the game.
In an effort to maintain market share and grow their company in the face of the rapidly expanding, (and bordering obese) Vail Resorts, Aspen Ski Co. (ASC) went in with an affiliate of private equity firm KSL Capital Partners creating a separate entity to put up $1.5 billion to acquire Intrawest Resorts Holdings, which owns six ski resorts across the country including Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, Snowshoe, WV, Stratton, VT, Blue Mountain, Ontario, and Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, and also extends to Canadian Mountain Holidays in British Columbia. Since KSL owns Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, CA, Squaw is somewhere in the mix as well, but it’s still unsure, along with all the resorts, how it will tie into Aspen Ski Co.
The move keeps ASC up to date with Vail Resorts, but Vail features one united pass, the tremendously successful EpicPass that allows a skier access to any of its resorts across the nation and Canada. The question is, will the newly formed Aspen/KSL/Intrawest mashup provide a similar holy grail for ski passes?
For Aspen’s CEO Mike Kaplan, it’s still too early to say. Next season will for sure not include such a pass as Intrawest already participates in the 44-resort M.A.X pass and Aspen in the 16-mountain Mountain Collective Pass. Even if we do see a combined EpicPass-esque move from ASC, the company still very much intends to maintain the unique culture of each of its mountains.
Each resort has a strong sense of place with incredible passion and commitment from their employees and loyal guests. We’re convinced this new venture will bring fresh perspectives to these unique properties, help them enhance the guest experience, and foster even stronger partnerships with the local communities. Aspen Skiing Company will continue to be operated separately from Intrawest and Squaw, but we plan to work together in areas that make sense.
For those who have skied a Vail owned mountain, don’t expect those yellow coats to come marching in.
Unlike Vail, whose purchases then turn into more of the same Vail culture across the board, not a whole lot will change at the Intrawest resorts–Steamboat, for example, will still be run by Steamboat,
will be run by Intrawest, and the four Aspen resorts in the Roaring Fork Valley (Snowmass, Buttermilk, Aspen Mountain, and Aspen Highlands), will remain independent and operate under their own management under the Aspen Ski Co. umbrella.
Speaking of culture, ASC’s primary mission is sustainability, which goes to include business sustainability as well as a commitment to the environment.
As stated on their website, “Our goal is to stay in business forever. To do that, we must remain profitable; solve climate change; treat our community well; and operate in a manner that doesn’t harm our local environment.” They continue to uphold the standards of the triple bottom line, an accounting framework that takes into consideration environmental, social, and financial responsibility. When you’re working with an environmentally stressful industry such as the ski resort industry (ironic, yes), that’s a tough thing to do. Luckily, ASC is putting in the efforts to make it happen, even going so far as to have a VP of Sustainability whose efforts have put tremendous support behind Protect Our Winters (POW), a climate advocacy group with a primary interest in Capitol Hill policy and clean energy and efficient buildings for all of its resorts in the Roaring Fork Valley.
It’s safe to say that Aspen has its hands the right places. As we move forward into this world of continued consolidation among ski resorts, it will be curious to see what sort of changes take place nation and world wide. My hope is that the kind of culture Aspen Ski Co. maintains at its home resorts has some carry-over particularly in the realm of the triple bottom line. It’s no secret that the company is doing OK considering the $1.5 it was able to put down, but you can also look to the livable wages they are willing to pay their employees, and finally the aforementioned environmental standards they maintain and push the envelope on.
I’m excited about this move, and I’m still hoping for a full-on battle royale between Vail and Aspen as they continue to build their troops. I think it will be a good one.