For the third-straight year, Vail Resorts is having a major impact on the East Coast ski industry.
The latest move for the ski resort conglomerate was September’s acquisition of Peak Resorts, adding 17 resorts in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest to its ever-increasing stable of properties.
New Hampshire’s Crotched Mountain, Attitash Mountain Resort, and Wildcat Mountain, as well as Mount Snow in Vermont, are the New England ski areas joining the Vail family, effective this winter. Vail Resorts now owns and operates 37 resorts worldwide.
The purchase brings Vail’s New England total to seven resorts, adding to Mount Sunapee, Okemo Mountain Resort, and Stowe Mountain Resort, which was the Colorado-based company’s first East Coast acquisition in 2017.
It will be Vail’s first foray into New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley, the popular, year-round destination that is home to 13 of the state’s alpine and cross-country ski areas. New ownership for Bartlett’s Attitash and Pinkham Notch’s Wildcat Mountain is thus far being seen as a positive for the area, thanks to Vail’s reach and marketing clout.
“We feel that the valley is a premier skiing destination,” said Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Marti Mayne. “Having two of the 13 ski resorts owned by Vail gives us great credibility and gives us an even more premier feel as a ski destination.”
Both mountains will also now be featured under the umbrella of the Epic Pass ($989 adults, $519 children ages 5-12), Vail’s wide-ranging season pass which offers unlimited access at 26 different resorts, as well as limited access to a number of other destinations such as Telluride, Colo., Sun Valley, Idaho, and Mont-Sainte Anne in Quebec. The Epic Local Pass ($739 adults, $389 children ages 5-12, $589 ages 13-18) also provides much of the same access with some holiday restrictions at a handful of resorts including Stowe, Park City, Utah, and Kirkwood, Calif. (See www.epicpass.com for complete details.)
For New Englanders, it means a season pass good at seven of the most-notable skiing and riding locations across Vermont and New Hampshire, with the option to travel elsewhere and explore other Vail-owned resorts across the country and Canada.
Vail’s new presence in the Mount Washington Valley may also have local realtors anticipating more demand, if for no other reason than the excitement of having a new owner in town.
“Skiing has always driven the real estate market up here,” said Paul Mayer, owner of Black Bear Realty, located in Glen, a town right between Attitash and Wildcat. “They have a huge name and general consensus is any new company coming in and purchasing a ski mountain is going to bring renovations and expansion in that package. Improved skiing is good for the valley.”
Mayer said that he doesn’t think the Epic Pass will have that much of an impact on the immediate real estate market, but he does see a huge influence on the short-term hotel and Airbnb market in the area with season-pass holders using their access to Attitash and Wildcat as reason to visit the area. That includes some more-upscale properties in the valley.
“Short-term rentals are really driving the high end of the market,” he said. “Five-hundred-thousand-dollar to million-dollar ski homes are also being used as short-term rentals because buyers don’t want them sitting around doing nothing on their portfolios.”
The Epic Pass also adds a new wrinkle into what was already a hyper-competitive market in the Mount Washington Valley, with the 13 areas all within a 45-minute drive of each other. But some, like the privately-owned King Pine in East Madison, aren’t concerned with what the impact will be on their own business.
“We cater to a very-focused market of beginner families and younger families,” King Pine spokesperson Thomas Prindle said. “Planning trips out west and checking out other ski areas, that’s not really our market. We’re introducing new skiers and snowboarders to the sport.”
One definitive sign for King Pine’s optimism was a 20 percent increase in season pass sales this year, not to mention the ski area’s affordability ($59 for an adult, one-day lift ticket versus what can approach $200 at some Vail-owned resorts), which plays in its marketing.
“Certainly we remain a more affordable, more value-driven ski area in comparison to what you’ll see for retail lift ticket rates at the other Vail resorts,” Prindle said. “We’re not on the radar of most people considering pass options for multi-mountain resorts.”
Vail will likely come into the valley swinging its wallet in the name of improvements and expansion. The company announced that it intends to invest approximately $15 million over the next two years in one-time capital spending to elevate the guest experience at the former Peak resorts. But it might find itself limited in terms of what it can do on a much larger scale.
“We deal with compression in this market because we’re in the national forest. You can’t just go to the end of the road and put another 500-unit subdivision in,” Mayer said. “So the available land to build is limited, and the market has been very stable.”
Mayer said that has led to a trend where local valley realtors are seeing a lot of renovation of older homes. “There’s huge value in some of the older properties and old chalets built in the ’70s and ’80s on prime land,” he said. “Some of the best locations and views have already been built on, so it makes sense to pick up those properties and invest more money in them.”
On that note, Vail’s mission might be just to make the likes of Attitash and Wildcat better, if not necessarily bigger. Vail’s presence in the Northeast has done the latter already, and it leads one to wonder which local resort might be next in Vail’s incessant gobbling of properties.