It’s official. Vail Resorts has acquired Crested Butte and the rest of the ski resorts owned by Triple Peaks LLC, the parent company of Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire and Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Vail Resorts purchased all three resorts for approximately $74,000,000 million. As part of a separate transaction, Vail Resorts will also purchase Stevens Pass Resort in Washington from Ski Resort Holdings, LLC for a total purchase price of $67 million. Vail Resorts also paid off $155 million in Triple Peaks lease debt with Ski Resort Holdings, LLC, an affiliate of Oz Real Estate. Over the next two years, Vail Resorts plans to invest $35 million across their newly acquired ski resorts.
Part of the sale included two high profile base area development parcels at Crested Butte Ski Resort commonly known as the Cimarron Parcel (slope side parcel and part of Warming House Hill) and Mountaineer Square North (the large dirt parking lot located west of the Grand Lodge).
It will be very interesting to learn of Vail Resort’s plans for development of these critical commercial and residential zoned locations. Will the base area become more of a Vail style walking village with upstairs lodging and ground level shops, restaurants and other resort services and amenities?
Vail buying a ski area is hardly news these days. The Broomfield, Colorado-based company now owns 18 of them, including Stowe (for $41 million) and Whistler/Blackcomb (for $1.1 billion), which it purchased last year. But the news about Crested Butte Ski Resort raised broader questions about the viability of running an independently owned ski area and the commoditization of a sport that prides itself on its inimitable, community-minded culture.
For the Mueller family who are now past owners of Crested Butte Ski Resort, it was an agonizing decision that hinged on the long-term prospects for their family, skiers and the community. Based on the small margins of error for skiing areas, the shifting demands of consumers and the challenge of financing expensive infrastructure needs, they decided to sell.
Erica Mueller also pointed to a changing industry dominated by cheap joint passes. Four companies ó Vail, Alterra, Boyne and POWDR Corporation now own 46 of the most significant ski areas in the country, all of which offer competitive season passes that cater to skiers who want the option to explore other ski areas.
“We’re excited for the future of the resorts,” said Mueller. “They’ve been on a great trajectory, and if any company can take them to the next level and for the community and for skiers and give it the boost it needs, it’s Vail Resorts. Yes, Vail Resorts is a corporation, but at the same time, there are a lot of good things they can offer and bring to table.”
There is plenty of concern, though, in the Crested Butte community. The ski resort has always been family owned and operated and now the ski resort is owned by the world’s largest ski resort operator. It seems be a big jump for a small mountain town that struggles with spiking real estate prices, a lack of affordable housing and mostly low wage seasonal jobs.
Colorado Public Radio recently interviewed nearly a dozen local residents that show the Last Great Ski Town however is getting used to the idea of corporate ownership. Residents hope Vail Resorts will inject much needed investment into the resort’s aging infrastructure and base area.
While most are cautiously optimistic the skiing experience will improve, some young residents are fearful that Vail’s arrival will cause another real estate boom that will squeeze them out.
One possible solution is a proposal for affordable housing just outside of Crested Butte. A Houston-based developer wants to build a 220-unit housing project, with more than 100 affordable units. The project requires sign off from the four parties that own the parcel in question: the towns of Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort. It’s been mired in the approval process for more than a year.
The Mueller family noted that multiple questions still surround the acquisition and path forward for CBMR. “What does this mean for us? For our teams? What does this mean for our communities and the mountains that we have poured decades worth of passion into? We were not naive in realizing this would mean changes as the future unfolds,” they wrote. “We spent a lot of time contemplating all of this, and decided that moving forward with the sale was in the best interest for the future of the mountains, our employees, communities and our loyal guests. As we look 10, 20, 30 years down the road, we ultimately decided that now would be the right time.”