For quite some time, we have been asking, “When is Vail going to buy a resort in the East?” Well, we got the answer today. Vail Resorts (NYSE: MTN) announced that it has purchased one of the most iconic ski resorts in the world, Stowe Mountain Resort. Vail looks for the crème de la crème, well-run and well-established mountains. Vail wants to control the ski world as if it is playing the game of Risk, strategically placing its resorts so skiers have no option but to spend their dollars at a Vail-owned resort. Stowe fits all of Vail’s requirements: Big name? Check. Access to airport? Check. Development upside with condos and a two new developments going in on Spruce Peak, beautiful slopeside hotel, golf course, established customer base that is willing to travel west to one of Vail’s other destinations? Check, check, check, and the most important CHECK of all.
Since 2010, Vail Resorts has added such well-known major destination resorts as Northstar, Kirkwood, Canyons Resort, and Park City Mountain Resort (which was then connected to Canyons). Just a few months ago, Whistler Blackcomb, North America’s largest resort, was added to the portfolio of other North American resorts like Beaver Creek, Keystone, Kirkwood, Heavenly, Breckenridge, and of course its namesake, Vail. In addition, Vail owns Perisher in Australia. These are the resorts where people travel to ski, aka destination resorts. Vail has also been strategically buying smaller ski areas and feeder hills, which have minimal lodging and cater to day trippers. These are resorts like Afton Alps in Minnesota, Mt. Brighton in Michigan, and Wilmot in Wisconsin. Adding Stowe is the next logical step to Vail Resort’s acquisitions, giving it a foothold in the East. Honestly, we are just surprised it took this long.
We would even venture to guess that, being right on the backside of Stowe, Smugglers’ Notch now becomes the next target for acquisition. What does Vail like to advertise? Skiable acres. Smugglers’ has 1,000 acres and Stowe 489; that total puts it only 24 acres behind Killington’s 1,509, and it won’t be too hard to find 25 acres and be able to advertise “Most Skiable Acreage in the East.” This could be like Park City connecting with the Canyons all over again.
The question still must be asked, At what point is enough enough? Could there be antitrust implications at any point? Will there be more pushback, like when Vail tried to trademark Park City, and will that be tried again in Stowe? With low pass prices, Vail does make skiing accessible for so many — but at what cost? What will an inexpensive multi-resort pass do to the traffic on the hill, considering that Stowe passes were traditionally around the $2,000 mark? We have no answers, but it all makes for interesting speculation.