Hot topic in Vail

Epic Pass sales way up, but warm Novem­ber pinches rev­enue

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Ja­son Blevins Ja­son Blevins: 303-954-1374, jblevins@den­ver­ or @ja­son­blevins

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.”

Chris Dill­mann, Vail Daily

Snow­mak­ing crews work Nov. 24 to ap­ply pre­cious pow­der to Vail and Beaver Creek moun­tain ter­rain.

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