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Perhaps the biggest question facing the U.S. ski industry this year just got answered: Vail Resorts purchased Park City Mountain Resort Thursday for $182.5 million, ending a protracted legal battle that went white hot at the end of the 2011 season.
This finally settles an uncertain future for PCMR, which will open as scheduled for the upcoming season and be included on the Epic Pass, which is the resort’s first public integration into the Vail galaxy. Now the focus swings to what Vail Resorts has planned for Utah’s busiest resort, which unquestionably involves the adjacent Canyons. Vail took that resort over last year.
And that to-do list appears to be long, starting with what VR hopes to be a game-changer.
“We want to connect the ski experience between the two resorts,” said Rob Katz, Vail Resorts’ chairman and CEO. “It’s so easy to go back and forth between the resorts. It’s something we’re looking to do.” If the approval process goes smoothly, he hopes to have the Canyons-PCMR link in place for next season (2015-16). Joining PCMR (4,000 acres) and Canyons (3,300 acres) would create “an enlarged campus” of the most lift-served terrain both in Utah and also in Vail’s portfolio of resorts. That’s bigger than 5,200-acre Vail Resort, the company’s flagship mountain.
After a heated and very public battle in the media, John Cumming, CEO of Powdr, previous owner of PCMR, said in a statement Thursday that the deal is good for the community. “Selling was the last thing we wanted to do, and while we believe the law around this issue should be changed, a protracted legal battle is not in line with our core value to be good stewards of the resort communities in which we operate,” he said. “A sale was the only way to provide long-term certainty for PCMR employees and the Park City community.”
Katz said the deal included keeping PCMR employees on for the upcoming season. “We need their employees. We want the employees. We need them to be engaged for the season.”
Lifts, snowmaking, and other on-mountain upgrades, along with lodging, dining, and village improvements are the expected capital-project push at PCMR, as VR has done with previous acquisitions. PCMR has been “pretty darn successful over the years,” Katz said. “We’re not looking to change the brand.” Plans are to build upon the resort’s positioning as a family destination, and to “improve integration with the city and its heritage, similar to what we have in Breckenridge.”
Katz also commented that the same benefit of linking PCMR and Canyons holds true on a bigger stage, noting he’s “a big proponent” of One Wasatch, which would connect seven Utah resorts, including PCMR and Canyons.
The unknown remains how the local community and workforce will accept the decidedly corporate approach to resort operations that VR brings. Perhaps more significant will be how closely Vail Resorts will work with the collegial Utah resort community, which boasts an unusually friendly rapport between competitors. Vail famously pulled its four resorts out of Colorado Ski Country, the trade organization that represents Colorado ski resorts, in 2008, choosing to use those membership funds elsewhere.
Clearly, there was an urgency to get the deal out of the courts and finalized before the start of the season. Now Vail Resorts looks to return to the business at hand: selling lift tickets and operating a successful ski resort. “We’re happy we’ve put this issue behind us forever,” Katz said. “Now it’s time to pivot and look to the future.”
Powdr, based in Park City, operates eight mountain resorts including Copper Mountain, Colo., Killington and Pico, Vt., and Mt. Bachelor in Bend, Oregon. Powdr also operates four Woodward centers.
Vail Resorts operates 11 resorts, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and Keystone in Colorado; and Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area.