Snow news website Snow Brains is reporting that Vail Resorts is planning to buy Victoria’s Mount Hotham and Falls Creek ski resorts for about $120 million to ‘expand its global offering of resorts’.  The original story appeared in the Australian Financial Review.

According to Snow Brains, ‘The company sees the southern-hemisphere market as a way to tap the fast-growing market of Chinese skiers that has the potential to supercharge the global skiing industry’.

Snow Brains says:

‘For Vail Resorts, adding Falls Creek and Mount Hotham increases the value of their Epic Pass to existing holders, which allows them unlimited access to its resorts. Although not all skiers see it like that. After Vail resorts added Whistler Blackcomb to their portfolio, Canadian skiers complained that the resort favoured high spending tourists over locals and the pass priced in US dollars pushed up costs for people paying in the weaker Canadian currency.’

The implications of this sale are not clear, but could include:

  • The possibility of a large increase in visitation from overseas visitors (good for the local economy, not so good for local skiers/ riders)
  • Local skiers/ riders will get access to other Vail resorts around the world which are covered by the Epic Pass
  • This increased visitation could lead to the problems of greater rental displacement of locals and accommodation stress, and pressure to expand the footprint of the village and drive new development
  • The resorts are already foreign owned. Vail will probably be a better owner: An obvious benefit is that Vail is cashed up, willing to invest, and has a strong environmental ethos. These resorts are currently owned by Merlin Entertainments plc, which is a British-based company. To me, as a Hotham skier, Merlin has seemed very ‘hands off’ and not very interested in the resort. The company operates 127 attractions, 19 hotels and 7 holiday villages in 27 countries, which may explain their indifference – Hotham and Falls are distant parts of the company’s empire and, unlike Vail Resorts, Merlin is not a snow-focused company. Environmental initiatives are very limited, especially at Hotham. Vail is well known as having a strong environmental stewardship ethos, so purchase of Falls and Hotham may lead to the resorts radically lifting their game on climate change, energy use and environmental protection. It is likely to see substantial new investment in infrastructure.

What do you reckon?

I don’t have experience of Vail owned resorts. What’s your experience? Good, bad or ugly?