Deer Valley Resort shocked Utah’s ski industry Monday, announcing its sale for an undisclosed price to a new ski company that has grown so much this year it’s now viewed as a rival to kingpin Vail Resorts Inc.
“We thought the eclipse was the biggest news of the day until we learned that Deer Valley had sold,” said Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort General Manager Dave Fields, reflecting the surprise within the state’s $1.1 billion industry after news of the sale broke.
One of the country’s top resorts since its founding in 1981 by Edgar Stern, who later brought in race car driver Roger Penske as a co-owner, Deer Valley will now be part of an as-yet unnamed company. That company’s other resorts include Aspen and Steamboat in Colorado, Mammoth Mountain and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows in California.
Solitude Mountain Resort, which Deer Valley bought in 2015, is not part of the deal and will remain under the current Deer Valley ownership.
Expected to be completed before ski season, the deal will have no impact on Deer Valley pass sales for the coming winter, said resort President and General Manager Bob Wheaton, who will continue in his job — as will other Deer Valley employees.
There are no plans to change Deer Valley’s status as a skiers-only mountain, added resort spokeswoman Emily Summers.
“Functionally, nothing is going to change,” said Wheaton. “That’s what I keep coming back to. There will be no change. … This transaction puts the resort in a strong position to continue to grow as part of a portfolio of 12 other outstanding resorts.”
The joint venture acquiring Deer Valley was put together this year by affiliates of two big companies:
• KSL Capital Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in travel and leisure enterprises. It has owned Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows for the last six years and has offices in Denver.
• Henry Crown and Co., a century-old company that invests in publicly traded securities, real estate, investment funds and privately held companies, including four Colorado resorts run by Aspen Skiing Co.
In July, the venture’s portfolio expanded significantly when it united with Intrawest, a longtime ski-industry player although much smaller than it once was; Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, an affiliate of KSL; and Mammoth Resorts, the largest operator in California with Mammoth Mountain, Snow Summit, Bear Mountain and June Mountain resorts.
The venture also has ski resorts in Vermont, West Virginia, Ontario and Quebec.
“Deer Valley Resort is one of the preeminent mountain resorts in the world and is a tremendous addition to our existing portfolio,” said David Perry, the joint venture’s president and chief operating officer, citing the importance of adding a resort in Utah.
“Prior to this acquisition, we were able to offer our guests exceptional experiences throughout most of North America’s major ski regions, but we did not have a resort in Utah, a state renowned for great skiing and mountain town life,” he added. “Park City and Salt Lake skiers have always known that powder, blue skies, a huge variety of terrain and exemplary guest service have always set Deer Valley Resort apart.”
Park City Chamber Bureau President Bill Malone said he is optimistic Deer Valley’s addition to the joint venture will benefit Summit County and the state.
“There will be no two bigger lift-ticket brands in the country and we’re going to have both,” Malone added. “It’s on par with New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago having both American and National League baseball teams. That’s a pretty compelling place to be.”
As a Park City resident, Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty has seen for himself how many first-time visitors his community has hosted since Vail Resorts was brought in to run Canyons Resort. Vail Resorts later bought Park City Mountain and combined the two. He expects Deer Valley’s ownership change to have similar impacts.
“There are certainly people who have skied Mammoth and Aspen and Squaw Valley who have never or rarely been to Utah. We’ll tap into those markets, I’m sure,” he said. “And not only is that business good for Park City, but it’s good for the whole state since many of our resorts are so close together. Visitors ski at the resort where they have their pass, but they spread their wings and try some of the others.”
Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said, “We very much welcome new investment and new participants in the mountain resorts industry.”
Like Snowbird and Deer Valley, Alta Ski Area is part of the Mountain Collective, a group of 16 resorts that give one another’s passholders discounted deals on lift passes and lodging.
Alta’s new president and general manager, Mike Maughan, said he expects “everything to be status quo for this season. They’ve indicated they intend to tell us by October what their thoughts are for the future regarding the Mountain Collective or if they’re going to create an Epic-type product.”
Vail’s Epic Pass gives purchasers access to all of Vail’s resorts. Raffery, Malone and Fields all wondered if the joint venture will try to match that benefit.
“For all of these acquisitions to take place,” said Malone, of “this company with a name to be picked later, I would assume the ultimate objective would be a shared-pass product, something that would be good at all of these places.”
Deer Valley’s Wheaton isn’t saying, but he assured fans of his resort that the new owners have decades of ski-area experience and “their priorities and goals are well-aligned with ours. They are interested in doing a good job of operating companies they can be proud of.”