Ski industry sees another big consolidation with Aspen deal

DENVER — A ski resort company that stretches from Quebec to Colorado was purchased Monday by the Aspen Skiing Co., setting up seismic changes in a sector with few multistate ski operators.

Aspen Skiing Co. is partnering with Denver-based KSL Capital Partners to acquire Intrawest Resorts Holdings for about $1.5 billion, including debt, Aspen Skiing said in a statement.

Intrawest owns Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado, Snowshoe in West Virginia, Stratton Mountain in Vermont, Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Blue Mountain in Ontario and the Canadian Mountain Holidays heli-skiing operation in British Columbia. Intrawest also operates Winter Park ski area in Colorado.

KSL Capital Partners owns Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in the Lake Tahoe area.

Aspen Skiing Co. owns the Snowmass, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk resorts.

The consolidation gives the industry a huge new player. Aspen Skiing has long resisted consolidation with larger owners, focusing on its smaller size and mix of ultra-wealthy out-of-town visitors and ski-savvy locals.

After Monday’s acquisition, the company now stretches coast to coast and in two countries, though the acquired resorts will retain the Intrawest name. The heli-skiing operation that was sold is the world’s largest operator of helicopter ski trips that put skiers atop mountains so they can ski virgin snow.

The Aspen Skiing Co. acquisition gives its main competitor, Vail Resorts, a challenge.

Vail recently acquired North America’s biggest and busiest ski resort, Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb Holdings Inc. The purchase brought Vail Resorts to a dozen ski areas, all of them destination resorts that court overnight guests.

The consolidations — not new in a ski industry that has seen long periods of consolidation in the past — won’t be noticed by customers in the short term, said Mike Kaplan, Aspen Skiing’s president and CEO.

There are no immediate plans to change lift ticket prices or amenities at any of the acquired resorts, he said.

“What’s unique about each community and each mountain, we’re going to preserve that,” Kaplan said. “We’ll make sure they’re authentic and present to a long-term customer, ‘This is why I love this place.’”

It’s unclear whether Aspen Skiing will try to use the purchase of the resorts to imitate Vail’s wildly popular Epic pass, which allows skiers to buy one pass to ski multiple times at its different resorts.

Kaplan said Intrawest’s Super Pass will continue as usual next year. It skiers access to Eldora, Copper Mountain and Winter Park plus days at Steamboat Springs and Crested Butte —

Aspen Skiing Co. will continue to offer its Max Pass, which offers just a couple days at 44 resorts spanning North America, from Taos, New Mexico, to Mont-Sainte-Anne near Quebec City Canada.

Kaplan said skiers increasingly want to try ski resorts far from their homes and prefer to use a ski pass that works for a number of them instead of buying pricier per-day lift tickets at the different resorts.

“They’re crazy about getting out and going skiing and they want to go out to more places,” Kaplan said.

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