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Photograph courtesy of Winter Park Resorts

Is Aspen Skiing Company the Next Big Resorts Conglomerate?

An entity comprising affiliates of Aspen Skiing Co. and Denver's KSL Capital Partners is scheduled to take over Steamboat, Winter Park, and eight other resorts later this year.

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Two days after Aspen Skiing Company and KSL Capital Partners announced they will be acquiring Intrawest Resorts for $1.5 billion, the Colorado companies announced they will also acquire Mammoth Resorts, which owns four ski resorts in California. The transition should be completed by the end of September.

Although details are slim, the acquisition means both Winter Park Resort and Steamboat Ski Resort will have new management starting in the 2017–18 ski season. The new conglomerate of resorts doesn’t even have a name yet. So what does this mean for the Winter Park Express regulars and the weekend warriors who trek to Steamboat?

Over the past decade, consolidation has become the norm in the ski industry, which made Colorado about $4.8 billion in 2015. With this move, the Aspen-KSL entity is taking on nearly 13,977 skiable acres. With that space, you could fit four Breckenridges and one Beaver Creek—and you’d still have room for Buttermilk Mountain.

A big concern going forward will be how the new management maintains each mountain’s identity as it takes control of 10 resorts across North America. To Winter Park’s Steve Hulbert, the essence of what he calls “Denver’s ski area” is a big part in why people choose Winter Park over other resorts.

“Winter Park offers an authentic, family-friendly Colorado experience that lacks pretentiousness,” Hulbert says. “We’re not Breckenridge, but that’s something people love about us.”

Good news here: The new management doesn’t seem interested in ushering in an updated identity to these acquisitions. In fact Aspen Skiing’s Chief Operating Officer David Perry says that’s the last thing they want to do.

“Each of these ski areas are great resorts with really strong management, and we’re going to rely on the talent that’s already in place,” Perry says. “The worst thing we could do is walk in and tell them do start doing things our way—we don’t want a single place to lose its soul.”

Another concern is how this will affect ticket and pass prices. In the short-term, at least, multiple Aspen Skiing officials say no changes will be made to the ticket pricing for the 2017–18 season. As Powder Magazine‘s Devon O’Neil wrote a few years ago, prices on tickets have risen while season passes have become cheaper. When asked about the trend of increasingly pricey tickets, though, Perry says that’s the norm for the sport.

“People who say skiing is getting more expensive—well, it’s always been expensive,” he says. “But, there’s more choice now than there has ever been for ticket options.”

Not exactly a rousing vote of confidence for the common person, but still, at least prices will stay put next season.

The other changes people might notice could be more streamlined e-commerce tools, or perhaps a common app among the acquired mountains. Another positive is that the new management has the financial capital that could allow for improvements on chair lifts, food, lodging, snow quality, and more. For what it’s worth, Hulbert says the Winter Park staff is pretty excited about the new management.

“Intrawest’s owner, Fortress, was a hedge fund in New York City,” Hulbert says. “Now they helped us through some tough times, but KSL and Aspen Skiing Company are Colorado companies. That makes a huge difference.”

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