Stowe poised for first winter under Vail ownership

Vail Resorts is one of the largest ski corporations in the world. The company runs ski areas all over North America: in the West, where the iconic Vail and Breckenridge sit in Colorado, in the North, where Whistler/Blackcomb dominates skiing in British Columbia, and in the South, where Park City looms out of the Wasatch Range in Utah. Until this year, Vail’s reach only extended as far east as Michigan. Now all that is changing. This past June, Vail Resorts officially bought their first east coast mountain, making Stowe Mountain their fifteenth resort.

Stowe has long been known as one of the more expensive places to ski in the East. Over the past few years, their season passes have consistently soared to over $2,000, with day tickets of over $100. The biggest and most popular change that has come with the shift of ownership is the drop in price. For the 2017-18 ski season, Stowe will be included for the first time in the fabled Vail Epic Pass. The Epic Pass not only grants skiers mountain access to all 15 Vail resorts, but also drastically decreases the price of a season pass to $899.

“It’s a pretty good deal, considering a single day ticket at a lot of Vail mountains can be around $150,” said Kalee Hoyt, a Vermont-raised skier. “I live in Colorado and I can’t wait to be able to ski at Stowe while I’m visiting home.”

Aside from price changes, there have also been some staff changes too. In April, Vail announced they would be keeping on the majority of employees after the purchase. However, there were nine major operations staff members who were let go, including Resort President Barry Pius, who was replaced by Bobby Murphy, a Vail vice president.

Stowe has been called the ski capital of the East. According to their website, the resort has 116 trails spread over 485 square acres of skiable terrain. They operate 12 lifts, two of which are gondolas and, when running at full capacity, can service up to 15,516 passengers in one hour.

The mountain also sports a miniature ski town at the base, catering to their guest with art centers, skating rinks, restaurants, shops, and a ski in/out hotel.

“We’re thrilled to add Stowe Mountain Resort to our family of world-class mountain resorts.” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts, via release. “With the investments in both mountain infrastructure and base area facilities that AIG has made over the years, Stowe Mountain Resort has become the premier, high-end resort for East Coast skiers and snowboarders. We look forward to working with AIG to continue enhancing the guest experience and to ensure the resort’s long-term success.”

There are some folks who are not so thrilled by the imminent changes that Vail Resorts will bring to Stowe. Some skiers and riders oppose the manifest destiny-like expansion of Vail, wishing to keep the monolith of the Vail Corporation off the East Coast.

“I’m not too psyched about it,” said Zach Higley, a New England snowboarder. “I think that the Vail corporation is destroying the ski industry.”

If nothing else, Vail certainly is controlling the US ski industry. Since 2012, they have purchased at least one ski resort a year, slowly but surely spreading the company over the United States and the rest of the world. In 2015, Vail purchased its first resort outside of the US, Perisher Ski Resort in Australia. In 2016, they crossed the northern border into Canada to bring Whistler/Blackcomb into the family.

CEO Rob Katz has said that Vail seeks to “create a global footprint.” With the recent acquisitions of their first two resorts outside of the United States, and now their first resort on the east coast, it seems as if they are quickly making that vision a reality.

Vail continues to look for more opportunities to conquer the ski industry. “We’re absolutely looking at Japan, looking at other parts of Asia. We’re also looking at other parts of North America and Europe,” said Katz in an interview with CNBC.

It is unclear when or if Vail plans to purchase another ski mountain in the East. Blaise Carrig, senior advisor for Vail Resorts, says, “At this point we just got our arms around Stowe and have a lot of work to do to make sure it is a successful and smooth integration.” As opening day quickly approaches on Nov. 17, many are interested to see how Stowe’s first ski season under Vail control will go.