Aspen Skiing Co. answered Vail Resorts’ acquisitions in the ski industry by busting out a move of its own Monday.
An affiliate of Skico teamed with an affiliate of KSL Capital Partners LLC to reach an agreement to acquire Intrawest Resort Holdings, which owns or operates six resorts, including Steamboat and Winter Park ski resorts. The $1.5 billion deal is supposed to be completed by the end of the third quarter of 2017.
Vail Resorts has gobbled resorts in recent years, including acquiring a majority stake in Whistler-Blackcomb in fall 2016.
Aspen Skiing Co. got into acquisition mode after Intrawest started exploring a potential sale in January.
“Aspen Skiing Company has been exploring ways to grow the company for some time,” Skico said in an announcement of the deal on its website Monday.
Aspen Skiing Co. CEO and President Mike Kaplan said the acquisition will help Aspen Skiing Co. in ways such as recruiting and retaining employees, as part of a larger consortium of resorts, and in creating up-to-date technology that consumers demand. Some marketing initiatives will also be explored in the future, he said.
Even with a stable of sister resorts, Aspen Skiing Co. will maintain independence, Kaplan stressed.
“The independent spirit will be alive and well in Aspen,” he said.
Skico has struggled to increase its market share. Annual skier visits — the number of skiers and snowboarders paying for a full- or half-day ticket on the slopes — has hovered around 1.4 million to 1.5 million mark for a decade.
For the 2017-18 ski season, the merger will have no effect on season ski passholders and visitors to Aspen’s ski areas, according to Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle. There won’t be any joint pass for skiing at Aspen’s four ski areas and Steamboat, for example, he said.
Intrawest is already offering multi-resort passes and participates in the M.A.X. pass — a 44-resort pass that offers five days at each mountain. It’s currently being sold for $629.
Aspen Skiing Co. is part of the Mountain Collective, a 16-resort pass that offers 32 days on the slopes. It was initially offered for $399 for next season.
Hanle said it was too soon to speculate on what type of long-term marketing advantages the acquisition of Intrawest will have on customers at Aspen and Snowmass.
Aspen Skiing Co., Intrawest and KSL collectively have enough ski resorts to offer an intriguing pass of their own if they choose to break ties with the Mountain Collective and M.A.X. (see related sidebar).
The intent to pool their assets and marketing efforts was clear on Skico’s website Monday. “Better Together” said the main headline announcing the merger.
“Each resort has a strong sense of place with incredible passion and commitment from their employees and loyal guests,” Skico said on its website. “We’re convinced this new venture will bring fresh perspectives to these unique properties, help them enhance the guest experience, and foster even stronger partnerships with the local communities. Aspen Skiing Company will continue to be operated separately from Intrawest and Squaw, but we plan to work together in areas that make sense.”
The merger will have no affect on the management at Aspen Skiing Co., according to a Q&A posted on Skico’s website. Hanle stressed that Aspen Skiing Co.’s ski areas and other holdings aren’t part of the merger. Skico created an affiliate to work on the acquisition of Intrawest, as did KSL.
The announcement of the acquisition said the Intrawest management team will remain in place and headquartered in Denver.
Skico and KSL teamed up last fall, along with East-West Partners of Avon, to form a joint partnership to acquire the Snowmass Base Village property. Skico sees completion of Base Village as the key to increasing ski visits at its bread-and-butter resort.
Monday’s acquisition shows Skico was looking beyond the Roaring Fork Valley to secure its future in the ski industry.
Under the terms of the merger agreement, Intrawest stockholders will receive $23.75 in cash for each share of Intrawest common stock, representing a total valuation of approximately $1.5 billion including debt obligations to be assumed or refinanced net of cash at closing.