UnVail gets Deer Valley, but what will it do with it?

UnVail adds Deer Valley, putting it cheek and jowl to Vail Resorts

by Allen Best

PARK CITY, Utah – The new and still-unnamed ski industry consortium that might be called UnVail added Deer Valley to its stable last week.

From California’s Mammoth Mountain to Vermont’s Stratton, it has 13 ski areas under its tent. This includes 6 formerly owned by Intrawest. Vail Resorts has 16 across three countries.

Deer Valley will put the UnVail—a formal name has not been disclosed—cheek-and-jowl to Vail Resorts at the Park City Mountain Resort. What comes of this consolidation at Park City and elsewhere is unknown.

In Park City, local nerves seemed to be allayed by assurances that no major changes were planned. Bill Malone, the local Chamber director, told The Park Record that Deer Valley’s top-notch product is “probably a lot of what they were paying for, in addition to bricks and mortar. So I wouldn’t anticipate much change.”

Changes will come, though. Most speculation has focused on the ski pass and brand that UnVail will create to compete with the Epic Pass and brand created by Vail Resorts.

“Looming season-pass showdown among Colorado’s ski-industry heavyweights,” said the Denver Post in reporting the story.

UnVail is a consortium of the Crown family of Chicago, owners of the Aspen Skiing Co, and KSL Capital Partners. Jim Crown is the active member of the family in Aspen, although the business name is more formally called the family of Henry Crown.

The Crown family bought half of the Aspen Skiing Co. in 1985 and the rest in 1993. The family has diversified holdings, including a large chunk of General Dynamics and stakes in the New York Yankees and Chicago Bulls.

KSL was created in the early 1990s by Mike Shannon, who had been president of Vail Resorts, and his top lieutenant, Larry Lichliter, along with Wall Street figure Henry Kravis. It stayed out of the ski business, instead pursing golf and other resort properties, until relatively recently.

It is based in the Denver-Boulder metroplex, as is Vail Resorts.

The UnVail now has 10 ski hills altogether (counting Alpine and Squaw Valley as separate but joined-at-the-hip resorts). The effort is being led by David Perry, formerly No. 2 at the Aspen Skiing Co.

Vail Resorts has been driving changes, but most of the themes are relatively old. Discounted ski passes had existed for decades before Winter Park adopted the idea in the late 1990s. Under Adam Aron, Vail Resorts began discounting ski pass prices at its then four ski areas in Colorado.

Rob Katz, taking the corporate reins in2006, has expanded the chain and continued the vertical integration begun by Aron. From the van you ride from the airport to the shop where you rent your boots, Vail is very likely to be your helping hand—and the recipient of your credit card. That includes property in Aspen.

Wall Street likes what Vail has done. In 1997, when it went public in ownership, the stock price has increased from $16 a share to $218 as of Monday.

Rick Kahl, editor of Ski Area Management, told The Denver Post that the winner in this new competition will be skiers and snowboarders. How UnVail plans to compete, however, remains in doubt. But he sees the season passes being the key.

The Epic Pass offers unlimited skiing at any Vail Resorts’ property. The Mountain Collective Pass put together by Aspen Skiing with a growing family of independent resorts offers two days at 16 top-flight ski hills.

“Whatever they come up with, I expect it will be fairly simple,” Kahl said. The answer, he added, will be forthcoming probably in late February or early March, when UnVail rolls out its season passes for the 2018-2019 season.

This was published in the Aug. 29, 2017, issue of Mountain Town News, a subscriber-based  newsmagazine. Please see upper right for payment opportunities.

Allen Best