Hotels Aspen-KSL deal accelerates ski consolidation By Danny King / April 17, 2017 Share 1 Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital Partners agreed to acquire Mammoth Resorts, including its namesake Mammoth Mountain, pictured. -- In a move designed to challenge Vail Resorts' dominance of North American ski venues, Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital Partners last week announced a joint venture that will acquire Intrawest Resorts Holdings and Mammoth Resorts.Aspen and KSL have not disclosed the name of the new venture, but the acquisitions are slated to be finalized in time for the 2017-18 ski season.When the deals close, the joint venture will oversee 12 North American ski resorts, the same number as industry leader Vail, which also owns one resort in Australia.The Aspen-KSL acquisitions would link two of the country's five most popular resorts -- California's Mammoth Mountain and Intrawest's Steamboat in Colorado -- with KSL's Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows near Lake Tahoe.Vail, meanwhile, owns the two most popular ski resorts in the U.S., in Vail, Colo., and Breckenridge, Colo. In addition, it owns Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia.Aspen and KSL will pay about $945 million for Intrawest, which sold Mammoth Mountain to Mammoth Resorts’ current owner, Starwood Capital Group, in 2005. Intrawest also owns Vermont's Stratton and Quebec's Tremblant resorts.Aspen's three adjacent Colorado mountains will not be part of the new joint venture's assets.KSL did not disclose the acquisition price for Mammoth Resorts, which also owns California's June Mountain as well as Southern California's Snow Summit and Bear Mountain."What this new entity brings to the table is what skiers and snowboarders are looking for, which is a varied experience with a shared-pass product," said Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle. "That seems to be the direction the business is going right now."The joint venture will represent by far the most formidable competitor to Vail Resorts, which succeeded Intrawest as the biggest player in the U.S. mountain-resorts sector. In all, that sector attracted $7.6 billion in direct spending during the 2015-16 winter season, according to the National Ski Area Association (NSAA).The Aspen-KSL acquisitions are just the latest in a rapidly consolidating industry. In addition the growing popularity of its Epic Pass, which can be used for all of Vail's resorts throughout the season, Vail in the past five years has acquired "feeder" Midwestern ski resorts Afton Alps (Minnesota), Mount Brighton (Michigan) and Wilmot Mountain (Wisconsin). Earlier this year it agreed to buy Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont for $50 million.Vail bought Utah's Park City Mountain Resort for $182.5 million in 2014, and last year it completed a $1.05 billion acquisition of Whistler Blackcomb."Now there are two sheriffs in town," said Ralf Garrison, founder of DestiMetrics, which tracks winter lodging trends. Until now, he said, "there was no alternative to the value proposition Vail provided in building equity through a consumer network. But the simultaneous announcement of the Intrawest family and the Mammoth group brought [the Aspen-KSL venture] up to a competitive product in no time flat."Vail Resorts declined to comment for this report.KSL's CEO and chairman are both former Vail Resorts executives.Garrison said the Aspen-KSL joint venture would provide the partner companies with the opportunity to cross-brand and cross-promote winter and summer destinations to the same group of travelers. KSL, which acquired Squaw Valley in 2010 and nearby Alpine Meadows the following year, also acquired what was then the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Southern California in 2014 (the property has since dropped the St. Regis flag). It acquired Honolulu-based Outrigger Hotels and Resorts late last year for an undisclosed price.Intrawest, the world's largest heli-skiing operator, has been paring its resort holdings since selling Mammoth in 2005. The company, which bought Blackcomb from Aspen in 1986 and acquired Whistler in 1996, was taken private for about $2.8 billion, including debt, in 2006, just before the recession hit. Intrawest sold Whistler Blackcomb in 2012, and now operates six resorts totaling about 8,000 skiable acres. By comparison, Mammoth Mountain, which opened in 1948 and has long been considered the most popular mountain resort among Southern California skiers, by itself has more than 3,500 skiable acres.Aspen's Hanle said that both existing Intrawest passes and Max Passes, which gives customers the right to ski at Intrawest resorts and 38 non-Intrawest mountains, will be honored through the 2017-18 season. However, he declined to forecast whether the new venture would offer a common pass for its dozen ski mountains or affiliate its mountain and beach holdings.The Aspen-KSL deal is happening at a time when the mountain sports industry is struggling to boost its user base. The 2015-16 ski season marked the third straight in which U.S. skier and snowboarder visits declined, according to the NSAA.In that respect, Garrison said, the new venture could provide an additional reason for newbies to try out winter sports or for veterans to try a potential alternative to Vail's loyalty program."It'll be good for consumers who want more choices of product families," Garrison said. "We all like new mountains."___Correction: KSL owns Squaw Valley, not Heavenly. Heavenly is owned by Vail Resorts.