Vail Resorts buys Stowe Mountain Resort
VERMONT — For weeks, the signs have been there: fleet cars with Colorado plates cruising the Mountain Road in Stowe, helicopters hovering over Spruce Peak, rumors of Vail Resorts’ senior management locked in closed-door sessions with the head honchos from Stowe Mountain Resort and AIG.
On Tuesday, at 8 a.m. Vail Resorts announced it had entered an agreement to acquire Stowe Mountain Resort from Mt. Mansfield Company Inc. (MMC), a wholly owned subsidiary of American International Group Inc. (AIG), for $50 million, subject to certain adjustments. Stowe Mountain Resort will be Vail Resorts’ first mountain resort on the East Coast and complements the Colorado company’s network of 10 world-class mountain resorts and three urban ski areas.
Over the past few weeks, stock prices for Vail continued to soar, rising to $180 as of close on Friday from $168 on Jan. 24 when VT Ski + Ride first broke the rumors of a potential sale. Of particular interest were two SEC filings made last week, Amended Statements of Beneficial Ownership that must be made when a person or organization owns more than 5 percent. The first was by the Vanguard Group. The second was by Abigail Johnson, who owns a home at Stowe’s Spruce Peak development and also happens to be the CEO of Fidelity Investments.
The sticking points that have caused the deal to be dragged out, sources close to the negotiations say, were whether Vail would get the golden egg: the Spruce Peak development, hotel and real estate. For AIG, this has been a profitable venture. And it didn’t want to give it up.
So Vail went ahead and will simply buy the ski resort operations, lifts, leased and owned land the trails are on and the assets related to the mountain operations of the resort. These 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, including the new Spruce Peak Adventure Center for kids and the Stowe Rocks climbing gyms.
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 around the Toll House lift will be retained by Mt. Mansfield Company.
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. Vail Resorts said it will retain the vast majority of the resort’s year-round staff.
This acquisition brings together Vail Resorts, the world’s leading mountain resort operator, with AIG Global Real Estate (AIGGRE), a real estate developer and subsidiary of the insurance giant AIG International, which has been involved with Stowe since 1943 when its chairman Cornelius V. Starr and his wife visited Stowe. According to a Burlington Free Press article by historian Brian Linder, the couple were bummed out at having to wait in long lift lines for the single chair and offered to put up 51 percent of the funds for another lift in 1943. Starr owned the Mt. Mansfield ski company until 1970 when he sold it to AIG.
Vail Resorts plans to integrate Stowe Mountain Resort into its Epic Pass and other season pass products for the 2017-2018 winter season, subject to the acquisition closing. With the Epic Pass, Vermont skiers and snowboarders will have unlimited access locally at Stowe at an attractive price (last year’s early season Epic Pass price was $809) as well as at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in Tahoe along the Nevada-California border; and Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada.
“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. “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.”
Douglas Tymins, president and chief executive officer of AIG Global Real Estate, also expressed his enthusiasm for the deal.
“Under Vail Resorts’ management, Stowe’s reputation as a premier ski destination with a commitment to excellent service will continue to grow,” he said. “AIGGRE is looking forward to combining Vail Resorts’ tremendous mountain operations capabilities with our continued commitment to the development of the Spruce Peak community.”
Stowe Mountain Resort’s newest facilities and improvements include the Spruce Peak Adventure Center, the new Meadows Quad on Spruce Peak, Evolution Stowe’s RFID tickets, passes and gates and the new Shops at Spruce Peak. Spruce Peak also has new high-speed lifts, new base facilities and gourmet restaurants. MMC will retain ownership of the Stowe Mountain Lodge at Stowe Mountain Resort, a 312-room hotel and spa that has already been recognized as one of the greenest and most luxurious mountainside hotels in the world, and additional slopeside real estate opportunities.
This transaction is subject to Vermont administrative review. At closing, the purchase price will be adjusted for certain agreed upon terms, including a reduction (or increase) in the price by the amount that the resort’s EBITDA exceeds capital expenditures for the period from Nov. 1, 2016, through closing. Stowe Mountain Resort is expected to generate incremental annual EBITDA in excess of $5 million in Vail Resorts’ fiscal year ending July 31, 2018.
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