After weeks of rumors, the news became official this morning: Vail Resorts intends to buy Stowe Mountain Resort for $50 million. If the sale goes through, Stowe will become Vail's first property on the East Coast.
The sale is subject to administrative review by the State of Vermont. Much of the resort property is leased state land.
"Operations at the resort for the remainder of the 2016-17 ski season will continue in the ordinary course as will future summer and winter seasonal hiring," a Vail press release states. "Vail Resorts will be retaining the vast majority of the resort’s year-round staff."
Stowe Mountain Resort spokesperson Mike Colbourn refused to comment on the matter beyond saying there is a press release on the resort's website.
According to Stowe Mountain Resort's website, Stowe will join Vail's Epic Pass next season. That's good news for season pass-holders. An adult season pass to Stowe can top $2,000. This year the Epic Pass cost around $800.
Blaise Carrig is senior advisor to the mountain division at Vail Resorts. He says, "One of the bigger changes will be the introduction of our Epic Pass in the marketplace, which will give people who have that pass at Stowe an opportunity to ski our other resorts, throughout the world, actually."
Those resorts include Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Tahoe; and Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada.
Carrig adds, "We see Stowe as the premium resort brand in the East. And, you know, we feel it’s a really great fit into our resort network. And it’s like really the perfect eastern resort to kind of be a part of our grouping."
The sale will include "all of the assets related to the mountain operations of the resort, including base area skier services (food and beverage, retail and rental, lift ticket offices and ski and snowboard school facilities) at Mount Mansfield and Spruce Peak," according to the announcement. "Other facilities such as the Stowe Mountain Lodge, Stowe Mountain Club, Stowe Country Club and certain real estate owned and held for potential future development will be retained by MMC (Mount Mansfield Company)."
Mount Mansfield Company is a subsidiary of American International Group (AIG).
The deal has been in the works for months, according to Lamoille County Sen. Richard Westman, who met with Stowe Mountain officials back in December.
“And they said they had been working on the deal all fall, and they told me that they would make an announcement in February,” Westman says.
Westman says Lamoille County is one of the most tourism-dependent counties in the nation – it also hosts Smuggler’s Notch Resort in Jeffersonville. He says if the mountain had to sell, then Lamoille County couldn’t have ended up with better buyers.
“There’s always a little apprehension when change comes, but I think if the mountain had to sell, this is probably a good fit,” Westman says. “The new ownership clearly are people that know the ski industry, so the place looks to be moving in a place with a group of people who really knows what they’re doing.”
Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association, says Vail Resorts is one of the most highly regarded ownership companies in the industry.
“And as they told me yesterday, we’re not sellers,” Riehle says. “And it’s true. They’re not volatile. They are incredibly stable. They’ve got a stock price the likes of which any ski area operation company that’s gone public would be incredibly jealous of.”
Riehle says it’s noteworthy that the sale involves the only on-mountain operations and related infrastructure, and not vast real-estate assets that have grown up immediately around the resort.
Leaving the condominium and lodging businesses to AIG Global Real Estate, Riehle says, “really sets up a win-win.”
“You’ve got Vail taking the ski-area operations to the next level. Meanwhile, the bed-base development at Spruce can be developed and expanded and improved upon in a way that’s not headache for Vail, and doesn’t take away from their resources or attention to the mountain itself,” Riehle says.
Riehle says he doesn’t have any knowledge of Vail’s plans for Stowe, but he says he imagines “there could be some on-mountain amenity improvements along the way with this, given the significant financial backing of Vail resorts.”
Rep. Heidi Scheuermann represents the town of Stowe in the Vermont Legislature. She says the sale is good news.
“Vail Resorts is a world-class ski-resort operator, and them coming in I think will give us a real boost in terms of both people who come and the local and what we offer at Stowe,” Scheuermann says.
Scheuermann says she doesn’t see an immediate oversight role for lawmakers or the executive branch related to the sale. But she says she’s hopeful the new owners will engage with local and state government.
“I want to make sure that the state of Vermont … is going to be a partner in this,” Scheuermann says. “This is an important development and we want to make sure our state government is partners with these businesses that are so important to our community and the state.”
Westman says the state might play a role in addressing some of the issues associated with Stowe’s operations, namely traffic and public transit.
Stowe Mountain saw a new single-day record this year when 9,000 cars traveled the Mountain Road to access the resort, according to Westman.
“Clearly when issues of traffic and public transit and those types of issues, and development that happens up there, we will have a role in all of that,” Westman says. “But those issues that need to be dealt with are issues of success. The place has had a lot of success getting people in there.”
Update 12:01 p.m. This post has been updated to include quotes from lawmakers and a ski industry official.
Update 5:19 p.m. This post has been updated to include a clarification and quotes from a Vail official.