Park City, UT – A blizzard of ski resort acquisitions and mergers that took place throughout the off-season will forever change the landscape of the North American ski industry.
Perhaps the most noteworthy change this winter will occur in Utah at Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR), which has been sold to Vail Resorts by Park City-based Powdr Corp. The $182.5 million agreement, which was announced on September 11, brought an end to a bloody legal fight between the two companies and followed Summit County District Court decisions throughout the summer that consistently came down in Vail Resorts’ favor. By extinguishing the ongoing litigation, the deal ends several years of unease and insecurity amongst business owners in the state’s only true ski town.
“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,” said John Cumming, CEO of Powdr. “A sale was the only way to provide long-term certainty for PCMR employees and the Park City community. My family and I are extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to play a role in making PCMR what it is today, and we deeply appreciate the dedicated employees and all of the people who have supported us over the years.”
The agreement reached between the two companies stipulates that Vail must retain PCMR employees in their current roles. The sale includes all of the assets of Greater Park City Company (GPCC), the land used for ski terrain at the resort held by Ian Cumming, and base parking lands owned by Powdr Development Corp., which have approved zoning for approximately 687,000 square feet of residential and commercial development. The acquisition does not include the Gorgoza Park snow tubing operation, located approximately 10 miles from the resort near Kimball Junction, which will be retained by Powdr Corp.
Following the announcement of the deal, Vail Resorts confirmed its intention to build new ski lifts that will for the first time link Park City Mountain Resort with Canyons Resort, which Vail Resorts also operates, possibly in time for the 2015-16 winter season. PCMR is now part of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass, and the company has appointed industry veteran Bill Rock as the new chief operating officer of both Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort.
Across the Wasatch Mountains in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, Snowbird’s aging owner and co-founder, Dick Bass, provided a refuge for Powdr Corp. founder Ian Cumming. Last May, as the legal battle between Powdr and Vail Resorts over Park City Mountain Resort was heating up, Bass sold a majority interest in Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort to Cumming.
“This partnership will enable Snowbird to achieve more rapid growth and even greater benefits for our guests in keeping with our founding perspective and philosophy of providing a year-round destination mountain resort for the enhancement of body, mind, and spirit, with our ever present emphasis on environmental protection and sensitivity,” said Bass, whose age no longer permits him to live and work at Snowbird’s base altitude of 7,760 feet.
“I look forward to working with the Bass family and the team at Snowbird in providing world-class experiences on and off the mountain,” said Cumming, an original investor in the Inn at Snowbird. Cumming also owns a home at Snowbird and his family has a long history of skiing at the resort. “We are very happy to be involved at a place that has so many fond memories for our family.”
The sale of Snowbird was independent of Powder Corp., which is privately held by the Cumming family.
Nearby, the DeSeelhorst family announced last month that they will sell Utah’s Solitude Mountain Resort, located above Salt Lake City in Big Cottonwood Canyon, to the owners of Deer Valley. Deer Valley staffers will work side-by-side with Solitude officials this winter to enable a smooth transition when the deal closes in May 2015.
“Solitude is an incredible resort and provided a huge opportunity for us to expand our offerings right here in Utah,” said Bob Wheaton, Deer Valley’s president and general manager. “Solitude is in a unique position with their widely varied terrain that attracts both local and destination skiers. We are ecstatic to be able to add the resort to the Deer Valley family.”
“The DeSeelhorst family has enjoyed being a part of Solitude’s history for almost 40 years. We are proud of what we have been able to accomplish at the resort and in our mountain community,” added Dave DeSeelhorst, owner and general manager of Solitude Mountain Resort. “We feel very fortunate for the opportunity to have worked with so many amazing people in our industry and most importantly being able to work with our incredible staff at Solitude over the years. It is exciting to pass on this unique and beautiful resort to one of the best resort operators in the country, Deer Valley.”
In announcing the sale, Deer Valley officials indicate that they plan to continue allowing snowboarding at Solitude (Deer Valley is one of only three U.S. resorts that continues to ban snowboarding) and keep the connection to neighboring Brighton Resort in place. They also indicated no change to their support for the One Wasatch plan to connect seven of Utah’s ski resorts via lifts and ski runs.
“One Wasatch has been analyzed over the years and the present lift alignment recently released by Ski Utah seems to make the most sense,” resort officials indicated in a prepared statement, adding, “Although Deer Valley will bring some of our service oriented and operational philosophies to (Solitude) we do not plan to rebrand Solitude as another Deer Valley.”
A number of ownership changes have been afoot in California as well. The state’s skier-visit powerhouse, Mammoth Mountain, announced in late September that it will add Bear Mountain and Snow Summit to its holdings, creating a feeder market in southern California to spur destination visits to the company’s Mammoth and June Mountains in the central Sierra.
“We couldn’t be more excited to enter into this agreement with Big Bear Mountain Resorts. These two uniquely southern California resorts have been providing great skiing, riding and biking experiences to visitors from California and beyond. Millions have enjoyed their first mountain resort experience on the slopes of Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, and we look forward to expanding upon the legacy that Dick Kun and his people have created over the past six decades,” said Rusty Gregory, Chairman and CEO of Mammoth Mountain.
In concert with the acquisition, which creates one of the nation’s largest ski companies with over 2 million visitors per year, Mammoth announced a new season pass that includes unrestricted access to all four mountains at the discounted rate of $689 for adults. The new Cali4nia Pass is available online for a limited time at www.Cali4niaPass.com.
Elsewhere in California, resort and destination community developer Skyline International Development, Inc. in August outbid the Bear Valley Mountain Cooperative to acquire Bear Valley Mountain Resort, in the central part of the state.
Ownership changes are afoot in the Rocky Mountain states as well. Just last week, only a few months after announcing that his company will operate Pajarito Mountain ski area in Los Alamos, N.M., Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort owner John Coleman confirmed that he has agreed to purchase both Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort in Colorado, and Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff. The two deals instantly transform Coleman into the largest ski resort operator in the Southwest, controlling 3,088 skiable acres, 26 lifts, over 200 marked trails and 13 terrain parks.
“I have spent most of my life skiing, working and living in this region, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to continue the visionary leadership of Arizona Snowbowl’s General Partner, Eric Borowsky, Purgatory’s Chairman Chuck Cobb and the Duncan family to bring these mountains together and usher in a new era while delivering the best skiing and snowboarding in the Southwest,” Coleman said.
Elsewhere around the country since last ski season, Indianhead and Blackjack ski areas in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula have merged, as have Song and Labrador Mountains in central New York State. North of the border, in September Intrawest bought the remaining 50 percent interest in Blue Mountain that it did not already own from Blue Mountain Resorts Holdings Inc. for C$58 million. The ski and snowboard resort is Ontario’s largest.