Vail Resorts enters agreement to purchase ski area
Photo by: 
Kate Gienapp

News early this week that ski industry giant Vail Resorts has entered into an agreement to purchase Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) was met with both excitement over the prospect of a boost to wintertime business and fear of the change it would bring.

However, should the deal close in coming months as expected, numerous questions remain on a wide range of topics for which Vail Resorts leaders have only begun to familiarize themselves. Still, qualities that have long set Crested Butte apart are what attracted the company to add CBMR to its vast network of ski areas.

“It’s got a really strong character, feel and attitude, and that’s a big part of what people who live there are proud of and people who visit are attracted by and creates a difference from other mountain resorts,” said Chris Jarnot, executive vice president for the Vail Resorts’ Mountain Division, who traveled to CBMR to meet its leaders for the first time Monday. “All of that is what attracted us. … I don’t know why we would want to change that.”

Vail Resorts has agreed to pay $82 million to acquire the Mueller family’s Triple Peaks LLC, which includes CBMR, Okemo Mountain in Vermont and Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire and two golf clubs in Vermont. Vail Resorts also has agreed to purchase most of the underlying assets at the three ski areas operated by the Muellers through payment of $155 million to the current lessor, an affiliate of Oz Real Estate.

However, the Muellers will retain real estate holdings at Prospect and North Village near CBMR as well as the Treasury Building and Lodge at Mountaineer Square commercial properties at the base area.

The acquisition of CBMR will make the mountain Vail Resorts’ fifth Colorado ski resort along with Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone.

Vail Resorts also announced Monday that it is acquiring Stevens Pass in Washington state for $67 million as part of a separate transaction. After closing of the two transactions, Vail Resorts plans to invest $35 million over the next two years across the four resorts.

While the company is focused on investing in the guest experience — making its holdings more appealing in an attempt to drive revenue that leads to greater investment — it’s not yet known how that capital will be allocated, said Jarnot.

 

‘The best decision for all parties’

Similarly, other aspects of CBMR’s involvement in the community and plans for the future Vail Resorts leaders have yet to get their heads around. That includes potential for terrain expansion and future of the valley’s winter airline program, Jarnot said.

Assuming the sale goes through, CBMR’s general manager would report to Jarnot, who will remain at Vail Resorts’ headquarters in Broomfield.

“What we have said so far is we expect to retain the vast majority of all employees at each of these four resorts,” he said. “CBMR already looks much like our existing resorts that we’re operating in our structure. We wouldn’t expect there would be wholesale changes.”

The sale is anticipated to close later this summer. Until then, the Muellers say it’s business as usual.

Tim and Diane Mueller purchased CBMR in 2004 for a reported $42 million, following their 1982 acquisition of Okemo and 1998 purchase of Mount Sunapee.

They say selling their resorts “was the hardest decision we have ever made.” Vail Resorts reportedly approached the Muellers recently about buying out leases and the operating companies for all three mountains.

“Our family has been very appreciative of being involved here at the resort with our employees and the community in the valley,” said CBMR President Ethan Mueller, Tim and Diane’s son. “It just became more obvious to us that this was going to be the best decision for all parties involved.”

 

The impact elsewhere

Vail Resorts’ purchase of ski areas across the West has resulted in notable changes for those communities. The company’s 2013 acquisition of a 50-year lease to operate the Canyons Resort was met with open arms by area residents, said Park City, Utah Mayor Andy Beerman.

However, the Vail Resorts’ purchase of nearby Park City Mountain Resort the next year was less popular as a result of its “homegrown” ownership.

“At first our community struggled with the transition from a local operator to a larger corporate operation,” Beerman said. “Like most mountain towns, we resist change and have a lot of nostalgia for the ‘old days.’”

In sum, Beerman said Vail Resorts arrival in Park City has been a “mixed bag.”

“On the downside, they have a volume model which has attracted a lot of dayskiers, chain stores and larger players,” he explained. “On the plus side, they have invested in the mountain infrastructure, added consistency, and they are generous with the community.”

 

BRIEF HISTORY OF CBMR
1961 — Two Kansans, Dick Eflin and Fred Rice, open the ski area on Thanksgiving Day, with a rope tow and a T-bar.
1970 — Howard “Bo” Callaway and brother-in-law Ralph Walton buy the ski area and spend $13 million on improvements.
1977 — The company name is changed to Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR).
1985 — CEO Walton pioneers the first non-stop, scheduled jet service to regional mountain airports.
1999 — Skiing Magazine editors rank Crested butte No. 3 in North America for overall “Adventure on Skis,” beating all other Colorado resorts.
2004 — Tim and Diane Mueller purchase CBMR.
2008 — The Muellers sell most of the resort’s underlying assets — as well as those for its sister resorts in Vermont and New Hampshire — to CNL Lifestyle Properties, leasing them back under a plan to restructure debt.
2009 — The U.S. Forest Service denies long-sought plans to expand CBMR onto nearby Snodgrass Mountain.
2018 — Vail Resorts enters an agreement to purchase the Muellers’ Triple Peaks company, including CBMR.

WHAT IS VAIL RESORTS?

Publicly traded Vail Resorts, Inc., through its subsidiaries, operates 11 mountain resorts and three urban ski areas, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada; Perisher in Australia; Stowe in Vermont; Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin; Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan. Vail Resorts also owns and/or manages a collection of hotels under the RockResorts brand, as well as the Grand Teton Lodge Company in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

 

 

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

“I watch closely and still have ties all over the ski world. I didn’t see this coming. This is all good news for skiers in the valley and also businesses who have been hurting in the winter.”

John Norton, for CEO at CBMR

 

“I like the small town atmosphere, and I know it won’t change overnight but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

J. Glore, visiting from Dallas, Texas

 

“For me personally, I don’t know what the future has in store. I hope it’s in Crested Butte. My job will no longer be here upon closing, but it could be exciting for us as we redefine ourselves.”

Erica Mueller, vice president of CBMR

 

“It makes me worry about the prices to visit here, for sure. … I like the Town of Crested Butte because it’s not like Summit County. I hope it doesn’t go in that direction.”

Devon Grierson, visiting from the Summit County

 

“It’s tough. A lot of people feel like we’re a funky little town. I guess it’s like being a craft brewery that all of a sudden got bought out.”

Jim Schmidt, mayor, Town of Crested Butte

 

(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at editor@gunnisontimes.com.)