Vail Resorts Buys Stowe

It's the megaresort company's first East Coast acquisition. Who's next?
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It's the megaresort company's first East Coast acquisition. Who's next?
Vail Resorts moved into the East Coast in a big way today, announcing the acquisition of Stowe Mountain Resort (above), one of the iconic resorts in the East.

Vail Resorts moved into the East Coast in a big way today, announcing the acquisition of Stowe Mountain Resort (above), one of the iconic resorts in the East.

Rumor became reality today, as Vail Resorts firmly staked its flag into the East Coast market, announcing that it purchased Vermont icon Stowe Mountain Resort. It’s Vail Resorts first acquisition of a ski resort on the East Coast. The announced price was $50 million.

Vail’s growth marches on. Vail acquired Whistler Blackcomb, the largest ski area in North America, last summer, having previously purchased, in fall 2014, Park City Mountain Resort, which it promptly combined with Canyons to form the second largest ski area on the continent. Vail now operates 13 ski resorts worldwide, roping them all together with its Epic Pass products.   

The word has been out for several months that Vail Resorts (VR) was investigating a deal to purchase Stowe from the Mt. Mansfield Company, which is a subsidiary of global business  giant American International Group.

The sale includes “all of the assets related to the mountain operations of the resort, including base area skier services (food and beverage, retail and rental, lift ticket offices and ski and snowboard school facilities) at Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak,” according to Vail Resorts. Other facilities, “such as the Stowe Mountain Lodge, Stowe Mountain Club, Stowe Country Club and certain real estate owned and held for potential future development will be retained by MMC.” Vail’s stock has risen on the well-known rumor of the Stowe acquisition, soaring to an all-time high of $182 this morning.

Operations at Stowe will continue as planned for the remainder of this season and summer, with VR looking to roll Stowe into the Epic program next season.

You can't discuss the history of U.S. skiing without discussing Stowe. Using axes and cross-cut saws, a number of Stowe’s early trails were cleared by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which President Franklin Roosevelt created to provide jobs during the Great Depression.

Early in 1934, the Mt. Mansfield Ski Club was formed, leading to the Mountain Mansfield Ski Patrol, which is the oldest ski patrol in the U.S., according to Stowe. Later that year, the CCC crews put down their axes to open The Bruce trail, with only one member of the crew a skier, according to a story by Brian Lindner on the resort’s history in the Burlington Free Press. The Bruce was quickly followed by cutting the famous Nose Dive trail, with its signature Seven Turns. In 1940, crews started building the then longest and highest chairlift in the world, Stowe’s trademark Single Chair, which ran until 1986.

Today, Stowe’s bite-size trail map (485 acres) can belie its punch for the uninitiated. Its legendary (and legendarily narrow) The Front Four—Goat, National, Starr and Liftline—remain a tight test of knees, nerves and reflexes. Stowe serves up a 2,360-foot vertical, and a dozen lifts. Annual snowfall is about 315 inches. 

Now after its first first foray into Vermont—and the East—with the acquisition of Stowe, VR's resort lineup also includes, Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Beaver Creek in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar in the Tahoe area, Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, and several ski areas in the Midwest, among others.

The question remains, of course, what’s next on Vail Resort’s acquisition list? For industry watchers, it seems that VR just might be using the Mountain Collective portfolio as a shopping list. The innovative multi-resort Mountain Collection pass was launched several seasons ago as a alternative to the ever-expanding Epic Pass program. Since the Mountain Collective skated out of the start shack, Vail Resorts has purchased Collective members Whistler Blackcomb and now Stowe.  

Or are gear brands next in VR's view? For instance, soon after consumer-brands giant Newell Brands acquired Jarden Corp., parent company of K2 and Line, among others, Newell boss Mike Polk began publicly discussing his need to sell smaller brands from his $16-billion conglomerate. Here's background on the K2 sale.

Vail Resorts Retail currently operates more than 180 retail shops throughout Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, and soon-to-be Vermont. Perhaps VR has an idea on how to fill those ski racks.