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Business

Colorado Now Home To Two Of The World's Largest Skiing Companies

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MattPowerPhotography.com
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Courtesy of Aspen Skiing Company

Colorado, a long-time leader in the ski industry, may become home to the world’s largest ski resort companies after Aspen Skiing Company’s spring expansions.

In April 2017, Aspen Skiing Company teamed up with KSL-Partners, a Denver-based private equity firm, to purchase Intrawest Resort Holdings and their six ski areas, including Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado. Two days later, they also acquired California’s Mammoth Mountain and three additional ski resorts.

The move made waves through the industry. Most notably, it put Aspen in direct competition with longtime rival Vail Resorts.

Henrik Lampert, the editor-in-chief for Freeskier Magazine, says Vail had been operating as the “lone beast” in the industry for more than a decade.

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Credit Henrik Lampert / Freeskier Magazine
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Freeskier Magazine
Freeskier Magazine's editor-in-chief, Henrik Lampert (left) and publisher Damian Quigley enjoy the snowfall at Whistler Blackcomb, March, 2017.

“And a year ago, we were reporting on Vail Resorts acquisition of Whistler- Blackcomb, which is one of the largest and most celebrated ski resorts in the world,” he says. “Vail was the true leader, they had an absolute monopoly. …  They had no competition.”

But with Aspen / KSL expanding, the majority of resorts in North America are owned and operated by two companies. Vail, with 14 resorts, will have major competition from Aspen / KSL’s 13.

Andy Daly is co-owner of Powderhorn resorts on Colorado’s Western Slope and has been in the ski industry for more than 30 years. He says the competition will benefit some consumers.

“Because I think it’s going to keep season prices low, if you are not a season pass buyer, or user, then it may make skiing more expensive for you,” he says.

Both resorts will also be competing with different multi-mountain passes, where you pay for access to multiple mountains owned by the ski company. Vail has already seen success with their Epic Pass and Aspen will soon be able to offer a similar package.

There are other implications from the consolidation of North America’s ski industry. For smaller “mom and pop” operations, geography may play the biggest role in their survival.

“For areas, maybe, such as Powderhorn, where we don’t compete directly, people have to make a conscious decision choice to travel to one of those resorts,” Daly says. “So a small regional resort, I think we will be able to continue to thrive and provide a unique experience.”

As Vail and Aspen become larger, it’s possible they will move to acquire more resorts, but that doesn’t necessarily mean locals can expect drastic changes, at least not right away.

Jeff Hanle is the public relations director for Aspen Skiing Company. He says it’s not their intention to come in and change everything.

“We think each and every one of them [the resorts] has unique characteristics that have made them successful, and that have made them a part of the communities where they operate. And we don’t want to change that,” Hanle says. “What we want to do is come in and enhance that if we can, and look to them for leadership on what they need to continue doing what they are doing.”

In a statement, Vail Resorts says they don't comment on or speculate about another company's business.

 
For now, the spotlight is on Colorado.  
 
“We have Vail Resorts and we have Aspen Skiing Company, both with their flagship resorts -- Vail and Aspen Snowmass, respectively -- who are poised to make some big, big, moves in terms of getting people onto the ski hill,” Lampert says.