Big news has blown in from Denver, Colorado. Vail Resorts Inc is going to buy Whistler Blackcomb in Canada for C$1.4 billion.
The deal, announced yesterday, is expected to be completed in the autumn, and has the full approval of Whistler Blackcomb’s board of directors. As a result, Vail Resorts – which already owns or operates nine destination resorts and two urban ski areas in America and Australia – will take 100% control of Whistler.
The Canadian resort is frequently voted North America’s best ski area.
Whistler shareholders will receive C$17.50 cash per share, as well as 0.0975 shares in Vail Resorts common stock. On August 5, that worked at a total of C$36 a share.
The purchase is being described as a Strategic Combination. Vail is at pains to point out that Whistler “will continue to have principally local Canadian leadership” and that control of day-to-day operations will continue to be based at the resort. Most employees will keep their jobs.
Vail will also support Whistler’s recently-announced Renaissance project, which promised C$345 in investment in the resort. This included funding a new lift, an indoor adventure centre and an indoor water park. However, Vail’s recent track record suggests it will make further investments where necessary.
Without doubt, this is the biggest resort ownership news for years. Vail’s portfolio already includes Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone and Beaver Creek in Colorado, Park City in Utah, Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar in California and Perisher in Australia. The acquisition of Whistler – which by most measures is North America’s largest resort – will consolidate its dominant position in the North American market.
It will set off alarm bells in its competitor resorts, too. For many American skiers, Vail’s Epic Season Pass already has a powerful allure – offering unlimited season-long access to the slopes in all Vail’s resorts. The current price is $809. In the 2017-8 season, when Whistler is added to the mix, it will become all but irresistible: and its mushrooming popularity is likely to depress season pass sales for other resorts – and bring them fewer visitors as a result.
For the international visitor, who would normally ski only once a winter in North America, and only for a week or ten days, the impact of the takeover will be less pronounced. But all the same, I bet one or two will be tempted to buy the Epic Pass in 2017, and plan the mother of all road trips…