‘It's a Big Tent:' Amid Ski Industry Consolidation, Indie Areas Carve Out Niche

Vail Resorts is expanding in New England, offering more options for skiers and riders, but independent ski areas say there’s still room for them to succeed

As consolidation brings more change to skiing and riding in the Northeast, independent ski areas are betting some consumers will want to stay “small.”

“We think there’s room for all of us,” said Linsday DesLauriers, whose family owns Vermont’s Bolton Valley Resort, an independent ski area.

Tuesday, the industry giant Vail Resorts, based in Colorado, announced it closed on the acquisition of Peak Resorts and that company’s 17 ski areas. The list of acquisitions includes Mount Snow in Vermont, and Attitash, Wildcat, and Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire.

The new additions bring the Vail portfolio to a total of 37 resorts worldwide, according to a Tuesday press release, expanding the company’s popular Epic Pass for skiers and riders. That pass enables consumers to visit the resorts under the Vail umbrella.

“We are thrilled that with this acquisition, skiers and riders living in and around some of the biggest cities in the country will now have access to both ski close to home and at renowned mountain resorts around the world – with just one pass,” Rob Katz, the chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts said in a written statement. “We are excited to welcome each of these ski areas into the Vail Resorts family and to continue to invest in what makes them unique.”

Previous New England acquisitions by Vail included Okemo Mountain Resort and Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont, and Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire.

Amid the consolidation, DesLauriers and other small ski areas are now talking up their own small-resort package, which embraces the destinations’ independence.

“We can celebrate that because it is becoming something that is more rare,” DesLauriers said of independence in the ski industry.

For $199, or $219 in December, the new “Indy Pass” gets you two tickets to each of 36 small ski areas, six of them in New England.

“Certainly, the Northeast is a very skier-rich market,” observed Molly Mahar, who heads the trade group Ski Vermont.

Amid massive consolidation in the industry, with multi-mountain season passes like the Ikon Pass and Vail’s Epic Pass now the hot marketing trend offering significant savings over big resorts’ day pass prices, Mahar pointed out there’s still consumer interest in exploring smaller ski areas.

“We have a number of resorts that are still independently owned, and I think they’re sort of playing in a different sandbox, if you will, in terms of who they’re targeting and the skiers they’re going after,” Mahar said.

Ski Vermont noted the Vail expansion in Vermont is expected to bring a boost to communities in the form of added visitations from travelers taking advantage of the Epic Pass.

In the current skiing and riding climate, the big guys, of course, often have more dining options, cushier amenities, faster lifts, and more trail variety. But the indies insist they’re less crowded, more affordable, and often more kid- or beginner-friendly.

“It’s a big tent,” DesLauriers told necn and NBC 10 Boston Tuesday. “There’s a lot of room for differences and for different business models to exist within the broader tent of the ski industry.”

As indie resorts look to differentiate themselves from heavyweight competitors, both can agree they’re already pumped for the first snow of the season.

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