Retailer Reactions To Heavenly-Vail Deal

June 28, 2002

In May of 2001, American Skiing Company (owners of Killington, Mt. Snow, Sunday River, Sugarloaf, Attitash Bear Peak, and The Canyons) announced it would aggressively restructure its company plan to offset some debt and reduce inventory. Nine months later the company issued a press release stating it had entered into a definitive agreement to sell Steamboat ski resort in Steamboat Springs, Colorado to Triple Peaks, LLC for 91.4-million dollars. Yet a month after the February announcement, ASC renounced the deal. Instead, ASC sold Heavenly, its Lake Tahoe, California resort, to Vail Resorts for 102-million dollars. The switch left hopeful Steamboat area residents and retailers disappointed, and Heavenly locals prospective about the future.

Both Heavenly and Steamboat are known as family-orientated, skier-friendly resorts. This is not to say the resorts don’t have snowboarders among the local population, but in general the snowboard-specific areas of the resorts have previously seemed like an afterthought to the riders who frequent their slopes. This may be due to ASC’s large amount of debt, and inability to devote time and resources to cater directly to snowboarders. As disappointed Steamboat resident and Manager of The Click Skate and Snow Jason Poole says, “I was super exited about the prospect of loosing American Skiing Company, because it’s pretty much Ski Town USA here. We were hoping that new owners would help promote snowboarding. This year we had a new superpipe, which was okay, and a few terrain parks, but they weren’t really maintained or built that well.

“With the prospective new owners, there were rumors flying around about their plans to build a new cement skatepark at the base of the mountain, and other moves that were pro-snowboarding,” he continues. “Now, it seems like things will remain at the status quo-and all of the great rippers will continue to move West to progress.”

While Steamboat residents ponder what could have been, Heavenly locals are excited about future possibilities and improvements. Matt Vierboom, assistant manager of The Boardinghouse in South Lake Tahoe, thinks the sale of Heavenly is only going to help propel snowboarding at the resort: “If anything, ASC was a ski-orientated corporation. I used to live in Vail, and I foresee them being more open to snowboarding. This year we only had two parks compared to the rest of the skiable terrain. Hopefully Vail Resorts, Inc. will give us a little more.”

Over the next five years, Vail Resorts plans to invest approximately 25-million dollars in on-mountain improvements at Heavenly. These are scheduled to include upgrading existing facilities, building new on-mountain restaurant facilities, upgrading and replacing lifts and snowmaking systems, and enhancing the resort’s environmental factors.

Kelly Ladyga, spokesperson for Vail Resorts comments, “Basically since Heavenly was just acquired the improvements that guests will see immediately is a general sprucing up of the resort and a focus on guest services. We are putting together a long-term plan for capital improvements that will happen during the next few years.”

“Additionally, snowboarding events like the Grand Prix and the Vans Triple Crown have been very successful for our Colorado resorts in helping to establish and position them as some of the top snowboard mountains in the U.S.” she continues. “We are definitely looking at hosting events like these at Heavenly in the future.”

The change of ownership could also shake up the retail market in the South Lake Tahoe area. As a subsidiary of Heavenly Resort, The Boardinghouse is directly affected by the new ownership. And with the area currently having seven ski-specific stores and only two snowboard-specific retailers, Vierboom speculates there is room for a few more locations for The Boardinghouse if Vail Resorts decides to invest the money.

Meanwhile, the community of Steamboat will remain a part of the ASC conglomerate as the company has no plans to find a new buyer for the resort. And the 102-million dollars it received from the sale of Heavenly resort and associated real estate, will be used to reduce (not eliminate) the company’s debt. It looks like the skateboarders of Steamboat are going to have to wait a while longer for that new skatepark.