Vail Resorts in Europe

Vail Resorts buys Crans-Montana

By: Adam Herman December 06, 2023

If you’ve been following the news in the ski industry, you’re probably already familiar with Vail Resorts. The company infamously known for buying up big name resorts all over the world has gone Christmas shopping again: the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana is to become their second European holding after their Andermatt acquisition in 2022. But what does it mean for us skiers?

The luxurious ski resort of Crans-Montana is not only known as a place where you can buy a Louis Vuitton bag on your way to the lift line. It’s also become of the main freestyle hotspots in western Switzerland. Home to some exceptional terrain and a great snowpark, Crans-Montana has hosted numerous events such as the Audi Nines in 2021 and again in 2022, or Jib League’s second stop last season. Come spring, it feels like half of the European freestyle scene gathers in the late-season park on the Plaine Morte Glacier. However, the recent dissolution of the partnership between Alaïa Group, Helvepark and Crans-Montana put a big question mark over the future of freestyle in the Valaisian resort (we'll have more details on that soon). Little did we know, there was one more big surprise coming.

The recently revived spring session on the Plain Morte glacier attracted park riders from across Europe who wanted to shred until June. Photo: Klaus Polzer

Enter Vail

Vail Resorts have made multiple headlines in the recent years by acquiring some of the biggest resorts in North America, including Park City, Whistler Blackcomb and Seven Springs. They started their worldwide expansion in 2015 with Perisher in Australia, the largest resort in the Southern Hemisphere. The company recently entered the European market in 2022 by purchasing a 55% stake in Andermatt-Sedrun in Switzerland. Now, as announced in this press release, Crans-Montana, valued at CHF 118.5 million, will now join the 41 other resorts under the Vail umbrella.

Fabian Bösch at The Nines 2022

High-profile events like the Nines have helped to cement Crans-Montana´s reputation as a freestyle heavyweight. Photo: Polzer

The company’s expansion has caused a lot of controversy in local communities. Feel free to scroll through the numerous f**k vail threads on Newschoolers if you’ve got time to kill. In short, the acquisitions usually mean a steep increase in lift prices, paid parking and an influx of people as your mountain is now on America’s most popular lift pass. On the other hand, your mountain is now on America’s most popular lift pass, and for $909 in the pre-sale, the Epic Pass offers some incredible value. You can ride some of the best resorts in the world, go to Australia in the summer or vacation in some of the partner resorts in Europe including Les 3 Vallées, Verbier or Arlberg. As a result, if you’re a die-hard skier in the US, you just buy the Epic Pass (or its only serious competitor, the Ikon Pass) and get over it.

In Europe, we’re used to a bit of a different model. Our day tickets don’t cost an arm and a leg, and season passes are usually region-based, with the resorts maintaining independent, often local ownership. Austria has major regional lift passes like the Tirol Snow Card and the Salzburg Super Ski Card, while in Switzerland, many resorts are covered by passes like the Topcard (Davos Arosa-Lenzerheide and Laax), the Top4 Ski Pass in the Bernese Oberland, and the Magic Pass in the western part.

Epic Pass and their European offering

Crans-Montana has been one of the exceptions, opting out of the Magic Pass while still offering discounts to its holders. Even so, deals like the park-only day pass for 39 CHF, and the almost too-good-to-be-true sub 15 CHF tickets for the spring session have kept the freestyle crowd flocking to CM. Whether these deals will continue as the resort joins the Epic Pass for the 2024/25 winter remains to be seen—along with the future of the legendary snowpark, and the culture of the resort as a whole.

On a broader scale, it remains to be seen whether or not Vail's model of corporate ski resort ownership on the broadest possible scale will be successful in the long run in Europe—a market where ownership and land ties run deep, and where resort management and operations often involve a complex network of local stakeholders. Andermatt and Crans-Montana, it seems, are now the first two test projects in an expansion that likely is only just beginning.

We’ll be hoping for the best.