Front Range

Opportunity Knocks

Is Vail Resorts taking over the skiing world one mountain at a time?

February 2013

Since the 1960s, Vail has been an iconic name in Colorado. But these days, Vail Resorts owns more ski resorts outside the Centennial State than within.

In December, the Broomfield-based company, which pulled in more than a billion dollars in revenue last year, acquired its latest properties in an unexpected place: the Midwest. The $20 million addition of the formerly family-owned Afton Alps near Minneapolis and Mount Brighton outside Detroit follows the $18 million purchase of Lake Tahoe’s rugged Kirkwood last February. These transactions bring Vail’s portfolio to nine resorts, including four in Colorado (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and Keystone) and three in California/Nevada (Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood). The first expansion beyond Colorado was South Tahoe’s Heavenly in 2002. “We didn’t necessarily purchase it thinking there needed to be more,” says Blaise Carrig, president of Vail Resorts’ Mountain Division. “To some degree, acquisitions are opportunistic; you can’t make them unless they’re available.”

And Vail’s brass is strategic about its investments. Management is willing to plunk down millions on a property only if it brings something new to Vail’s stable of resorts—specialized terrain, a signature vibe, the chance for eco-friendly renovations. That approach is one way to ensure the multimountain pass, a concept Vail has largely popularized, remains advantageous and appealing to a potentially wider audience.
Previously, Vail’s passes have been most attractive, logically, to Colorado residents. But bringing two Midwest locales and a third Tahoe mountain into the fold means skiers could be looking at a nine-resort Vail pass option next year—one that makes sense for those living in several regions across the country. “As a company, we’re acquisition-minded,” Carrig says, although Vail Resorts won’t discuss future property interests. “There are a lot of skiers in those markets. The obvious appeal for us is the season pass possibilities.”