Axios Pro: Climate Deals

December 21, 2022

Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Happy Wednesday!

⛷️ It's our final newsletter of 2022. We're hitting the slopes for a special edition, where we look at U.S. ski resorts through the lens of deals and climate change. Buckle the boots, and let's hit that pow!

1 big thing: Resort duopoly moves mountains

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Company, America's two largest ski resort operators, are in a season-pass showdown, competing in a race meant to address both cash flows and climate change, Alan writes.

Why it matters: The growth push by both companies has reshaped the nation's map of ski trails and significantly changed the experience for snow lovers — some say for the better, some say for the worse.

State of play: Warming temperatures are eroding the ski season by weeks or even a month at certain destinations, particularly in early winter and spring.

  • That means less money for operators and more reasons to pursue added cash flows and top line growth.

What's happening: Alterra's Ikon Pass and Vail's Epic Pass have brought dependable revenue streams to an industry whose fortunes once rose and fell on the weather.

  • "The No. 1 strategy to navigate that is advanced commitment. I cannot emphasize enough how much important stability that creates for our mountain resorts," Vail CEO Kirsten Lynch tells Alan.

Zoom in: Both companies have beefed up their season-pass participation through consolidation moves.

  • Alterra is focused on partnerships: The company owns 15 resorts, but its Ikon Pass season ticket can be used at another 39 destinations.
  • Vail is focused on acquisitions. It owns 41 resorts outright. Telluride is the only Epic partner Vail doesn't own.

Be smart: "Geographic diversity creates a weather edge — for both us and our pass-holders," Alterra CEO Jared Smith says. "If it doesn’t snow great in California, you have access to 50 other mountains."

  • It seems to be working. Last season marked the busiest ever for U.S. resorts.
  • Both Alterra and Vail saw big bumps in midweek and similar off-peak visits — a trend they each attributed to season passes.

By the numbers: Vail expects this year to reap $800 million in revenue from its Epic Pass and similar advance-commitment products.

  • Those pass holders will account for a whopping 70% of visits to the company's resorts.
  • "The goal is to move as much of our lift revenue as we can — 75% or more of our lift revenue — in a pass, because that creates enormous stability," Vail's Lynch says.

Between the lines: That revenue means more investment in climate-resilience infrastructure like snow-making.

👀 What we're watching: How Vail and Alterra further monetize their operations — especially as the number of snow days shrinks. More on that below.

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