We are long past the days when each ski area was its own independent entity. Some of us remember the days when each area had its own vibe and identity – some had their own color schemes, unique tickets and quirky features. But given the increased operating costs in running a ski area, particularly with the increased need for snowmaking, many areas have faced the tough decision to either sell or close up shop. This trend has also also been fueled by the realization that real estate development tied to a ski resort makes more money than lift tickets and cheeseburgers.

Enter Alterra (aka Aspen), Vail and Boyne. These three 800 LB gorillas with the help from smaller players (most notably Pacific Group Resorts, Powdr Corp, MonSaint-Sauveur International Inc. and Resorts of the Canadian Rockies Inc.) collectively own over 90 resorts leading to increased homogenization in the ski industry. What has become very rare is the large, well known truly independent resort.  That is why we were heartened to learn about two acquisitions last year that actually kept several of these rare birds as independent resorts.

Given Jackson Hole‘s size and prominence in the ski industry many assume that it is part of a ski industry or real estate conglomerate.  In fact, the Kemmerer family has owned Jackson since 1992, and obviously have very successfully developed it into a highly sought after destination. They have sold this year to two Jackson locals and their families who have been involved with the ski area for years. Both of the key individuals have been on the Jackson Hole board of directors (one of them for ten years), and both families live in the area. Minimal change in approach is expected. There seems to be little criticism of the sale and the sale has happened with very little fanfare.  See Jackson Sold for my intel on the sale.

Powder Mountain in Utah was sold this year from one independent group to another. Powder was bought several years ago by a group of private equity players with a muddled vision. The vision was short sighted, and that group has sold to one of the founders of Netflix. Reed Hastings had acquired a minority stake in Powder in early 2023 and became the majority holder following a $100 million investment this past fall.  At the time he said all the right things about not making major changes and keeping Powder true to its name. That promise was very short lived however, as we explained in a recent article about Powder designating part of the resort as private with the private areas accessible only by its landowners. See our article at Powder Mountain Going Private?!  For a general discussion and more details of the sale see Powder Changes Hands.

Alterra/A-Basin While Jackson and Powder changing hands is potentially disconcerting, at least the areas will remain independent. As we were putting the final touches on this article it was announced that Alterra will be purchasing Arapahoe Basin in Colorado. The private equity group, KSL Partners, that owns Alterra and the four Aspen mountains, announced at the end of January it had raised a $3 Billion fund for further expansions and acquisitions. The ski related internet exploded with speculation that the money would first be used to purchase A-Basin.  Alterra wasted no time – 6 days after the money announcement they purchased A-Basin… this one hits hard. Perhaps we are being a bit too romantic and naive here, but A-Basin to us was still the epitome of the rugged independent area. This image was born years ago and enhanced when they dropped the Vail Epic pass due to overcrowding in 2019. They pivoted to allowing limited days on Alterra’s Ikon pass, but their rejection of the Vail Epic pass was loudly heralded by many of us as a middle finger to the big boys of the industry. Hence the deep disappointment on our part (and we note given the outcry from the internet we aren’t alone) to see this acquisition happen. The statements from both A-Basin and Alterra again include all the right things about nothing will really change. Hopefully they haven’t been hanging around with the new owner of Powder, but this is Alterra! Stay tuned. For an interesting article on the matter see Alterra Purchases A-Basin.

Be Well; Ski Well!

conSKIerge co-founder

Kevin Dennis is a life long ski bum with a 34 year legal career on the side. Now retired, he skis 80+ days a year. While he lives in Alta UT in the winters, he has traveled extensively through skiing and has skied almost every major resort in North America (and many you have never heard of). He continues to hit the road often throughout the western United States and Canada and trips over the last several years have included ventures in British Columbia, Montana and Colorado. Whether you want to know about the behemoths like Aspen or Squaw or are interested in the road less travelled (Lost Trail Powder Mountain in Montana or Whitewater in BC anyone?), Kevin has been there, has an opinion and you will most likely have to tell him to shut up after a half hour!