And the big fish get bigger…
(Image: Whistler Blackcomb Facebook)
Today Vail Resorts, Inc., one of the world’s largest ski-resort chain operators, announced plans to buy Whistler Blackcomb.
The estimated $1.05 billion USD deal is not just Vail’s first move into the Canadian market, but a profoundly major move at that: the acquisition of one of North America’s premiere ski destinations. It’s the latest of Vail’s increasingly high-profile acquisitions following its purchase of Perisher in Australia in 2015 and Park City Mountain Resort in 2014.
Skiers and Vail have a complicated relationship, to put it diplomatically. To your average ski bum, it’s the embodiment of corporate greed—a huge, faceless corporation devouring up resorts on its way to world domination. One example would be the company’s recent attempt to trademark the name “Park City” soon after buying Park City Mountain Resort. Residents of Park City protested, and Vail ultimately withdrew the copyright plans.
On social media, skier reactions to the announcement are uninspired. “This is not good news for the locals,” wrote one commentator who “lives in a Vail controlled town.”
“You just sold your soul,” wrote another. “If you thought Whistler was expensive, just wait.”
On the other hand, Vail’s Epic Pass is a leader in the “one pass for everything” skipass category. The 2016/17 Epic Pass offers unlimited skiing at twelve of Vail’s resorts in the United States and Perisher in Australia, as well as yet-to-be announced international partnerships (previous year’s Epic Passes have included days of free skiing at resorts in Japan and Europe as well). With names like Breckenridge, Keystone, Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood already on the list, the addition of Whistler Blackcomb to the Epic Pass (planned for 2017/18) will add a major bonus to this already impressive ticket.
Here’s the full statement from Vail:
BROOMFIELD, Colo. and WHISTLER, British Columbia, Aug. 8, 2016—Vail Resorts, Inc. (NYSE: MTN) (“Vail Resorts”) and Whistler Blackcomb Holdings, Inc. (TSX: WB) (“Whistler Blackcomb”) today announced that they have entered into a strategic business combination joining Whistler Blackcomb with Vail Resorts. Under the transaction, Vail Resorts would acquire 100 percent of the stock of Whistler Blackcomb, whose shareholders would receive C$17.50 per share in cash and 0.0975 shares of Vail Resorts common stock, for consideration having a total value of C$36.00 per share. The share exchange ratio is based upon closing stock prices and currency exchange rates as of August 5, 2016 and is subject to a currency exchange rate adjustment, as described below.
“Combining Whistler Blackcomb with Vail Resorts’ portfolio of outstanding resorts provides Whistler Blackcomb with increased financial strength, marketing exposure, guest relationships and broadens the geographic diversity of our company with resorts across the United States, as well as in Australia and Canada. This relationship will bring greater resources to support our current operations and our ambitious growth plans, including the Renaissance project, the most exciting and transformative investment in Whistler Blackcomb’s history,” said Dave Brownlie, Whistler Blackcomb’s chief executive officer.
“Whistler Blackcomb is one of the most iconic mountain resorts in the world with an incredible history, passionate employees and a strong community. With our combined experience and expertise, together we will build upon the guest experience at Whistler Blackcomb while preserving the unique brand and character of the resort as an iconic Canadian destination for guests around the world. We are delighted to add such a renowned resort to Vail Resorts and look forward to expanding our relationships in the Sea-to-Sky community, British Columbia and Canada,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts.
Mr. Brownlie added, “As the number one ranked and most visited resort in North America, Whistler Blackcomb has enjoyed tremendous success by delivering an exceptional mountain experience for our passionate and loyal guests — both locally and from around the world. That’s going to continue as we work with our new colleagues at Vail Resorts as well as our employees, local businesses, community and government stakeholders to make Whistler Blackcomb better than ever. We will also continue our discussions with the Squamish and Lil’wat First Nations, on whose traditional lands we operate, regarding a business partnership that will benefit our communities, our province and our company for decades to come. Our board of directors has also been monitoring the unique challenges facing the broader ski industry due to the unpredictability of year-to-year regional weather patterns. Whistler Blackcomb, with its unprecedented acreage of high alpine terrain and Glacier bowls, is well positioned, but by no means immune to these challenges. Partnering with the geographically diversified Vail Resorts and extending its successful Epic Pass products to Whistler Blackcomb are customer-focused ways of securing the long-term future of our resort, our industry and our community.”
Whistler Blackcomb will nominate one member of its board to the Vail Resorts board of directors, and Dave Brownlie will continue leading Whistler Blackcomb as the resort’s chief operating officer and will become a member of the senior leadership team of Vail Resorts’ mountain division.