Vail resorts ride the ups and downs of the ski market
The Snow Report
Sunday 18 March 2012
There has been a succession of North American ski resort empires through the decades. The American Skiing Company (ASC) rose to prominence in the 1990s, ultimately owning 10 resorts coast to coast before collapsing in 2007. Intrawest (intrawest.com), which grew to even greater dimensions out of the phenomenally successful Whistler Blackcomb resort in Canada, expanding across the Atlantic to France, and even running an indoor snow centre in Madrid, was sold for $2.8bn (£1.8bn) by its founders in 2006, just before the property crash hit.
The current success story is Vail Resorts (snow.com) which seems to be growing in a more measured fashion through the economic downturn, thanks to a huge stock of quality properties it either owns and operates, or operates for other owners. The Colorado-based group already owns four resorts in the state, including Vail itself which, along with sister resort Beaver Creek, will host the 2015 World Alpine Skiing Championships. Now it is expanding its grip in California, recently purchasing a third resort, Kirkwood, to join its existing purchases, Heavenly and Northstar.
But does Vail Resorts' ongoing expansion have any advantages for British skiers? Well, the addition of Kirkwood means that anyone based at Heavenly or Northstar, which are offered in packages by tour operators including Ski Independence (0131-243 8097; ski-i.com), can ski a third resort at no additional lift pass cost.
It also increases the geographic spread of Vail Resorts' innovative Epic Mix pass (epicmix.com and available as a downloadable app) an industry-leading technology. Most of the company's lift tickets at its resorts now contain chips that allow the resort to track a skier or boarder's movements around the mountain. This isn't new, but the way that the technology has become part of the ski day is – and the seamless use of the inevitable social networking connectivity, including finding your Facebook friends on the slopes, certainly is.
The latest version of Epic Mix also sees professional photographers waiting at key lifts at each ski area, happy to snap free pictures of you in front of spectacular scenery. These are available almost instantly for free posting on your Facebook page, Twitter link or even old-fashioned emailing.
Epic Mix, which appears to be a vision of what's to come across the industry, will also show you where you skied, measure the vertical you have achieved, and reward you with "pins" (electronic badges). These give you all the stats and facts you could ever dream of for après-ski bar boasting, whether you opt to tweet your triumphs or not.
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