Hot topic in Vail
Epic Pass sales way up, but warm November pinches revenue
The nearly snowless November cost Vail Resorts.
The largest ski resort operator in North America saw its first-quarter net loss climb to $62.6 million, or $1.70 a share, compared with $59.6 million for the same period last year. Revenue for the quarter increased 2.1 percent, to $178.3 million, including $110.8 million in mountain revenue and $67.4 million in lodging revenue.
That was a bit worse than company and analyst expectations.
“Any dip in call volume from November is also somewhat to be expected but not hugely concerning,” Vail Resorts chief Rob Katz told analysts during his company’s earnings release call Friday morning.
Lodging bookings at the company’s network of major ski areas in Colorado, Utah, California and British Columbia are pacing ahead of last year for the rest of the season, Katz said, noting that snow this week in Colorado and more flakes in the forecast have spiked the number of ski vacationers booking trips.
Vail Resorts in October closed on its $1 billion acquisition of Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb, which contributed to the loss for the quarter, a three-month autumn span that is traditionally very slow for ski resorts. Next week the company will open a new base facility at its Wilmot Mountain near Chicago, where sales of the company’s industry-leading Epic Pass surged this season. That increase in Chicago affirms the company’s strategy to buy small ski areas outside metro areas — such as Afton Alps near Minneapolis and Mount Brighton near Detroit — to fuel sales of its Epic Pass.
Epic Pass sales, not counting passes at Whistler Blackcomb and Perisher in Australia, were up 16 percent, with sales dollars up 20 percent compared with this time last year. That marks several years of robust annual increases in Epic Passes. The company expects sales of all its pass products — including at its newest resort, Whistler Blackcomb — to reach 650,000 this season, up from about 500,000 last year. That is probably more than all other resort season passes sold across North America combined.
Katz said Vail Resorts was pleased with the performance of its $25 million Epic Discovery summer programs at Vail and California’s Heavenly resorts, where ziplines, alpine coasters and interactive experiences drew record crowds. Construction of the new summer infrastructure pushed into July, dropping revenue “a tad short of expectations,” Katz said.
Katz said gains in summer revenue and visitation at the company’s resorts “were outstanding and, candidly, gives us more confidence for growth in this area.”
Snowmaking crews work Nov. 24 to apply precious powder to Vail and Beaver Creek mountain terrain.