With four decades in the ski industry, David Perry was a natural choice for KSL Capital when it named him president and COO of its newly formed mountain resort group in July. The yet-to-be-named outfit, which combines KSL's properties with Intrawest Resorts Holdings and Mammoth Resorts, will oversee 13 North American mountain resorts. Perry, who was previously operating chief of Aspen Skiing Co., spoke with hotels editor Danny King.Q: Your group appears to be taking on Vail Resorts for North American mountain resorts supremacy. How will you compete?
A: Our construction is slightly different. We're private, not public. We respect what they've built, but we're going to build our own company. Our group of resorts is very compelling. We have some excellent destination resorts, and we have places people can go that are close to where they live. People have the best days of their lives at places like Mammoth, Steamboat and Winter Park. We want to make sure each of those destinations is honored, respected and enhanced. But we're trying to be smart about what functions can be centralized. It's part art and part science.
Q: How will your group's recent acquisition of Deer Valley, which competes head to head against Vail's Park City, help your strategy?
A: We were very strong in California, with Mammoth, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, but Utah was always important to us in our planning; it's a great ski state. We feel very fortunate that the people who created Deer Valley talked to us, and we came to a quick agreement.
Q: Given that Aspen Skiing Co. owner Henry Crown and Co. has a stake in this group, why aren't Aspen's resorts officially included in the group?
A: The Crown family is very proud of its stewardship of Aspen, Snowmass and Buttermilk. Others may think they should be a part of the group, but that's not what we're talking about. But we will look to collaborate with Aspen in ways that are logical. They may not be our brother or sister, but they're our close cousin.
Q: What will you bring to this group from your experience at Aspen?
A: The Crown family are very smart business people, and they care about Aspen. All of these resorts mostly operate in small communities, and you can't pull them apart from the community, so building ties with the larger Aspen community was always essential. The other thing is the focus on sustainability, taking care of our pristine natural environment and working on the state and national levels to make sure the policies we embark upon will preserve our natural environment and keep us in business together. Aspen has played a leadership role there.
Q: How concerned are you that the number of North America ski visits has essentially been flat for the past couple of decades?
A: It's been remarkably steady, even though we've been going through a generational change. But there's been a migration toward the better-capitalized resorts with state-of-the-art snowmaking equipment and high-speed lifts. So, whereas there used to be about 700 resorts in the country, now it's in the 400s because a lot of small ski areas disappeared.
Q: So how do you increase those ski-visit numbers?
A: We all have a responsibility to maintain and grow the core sports of skiing and snowboarding. We have resorts, such as Blue Mountain in Ontario, that are very good at teaching people. They're generating new skiers every day, and a lot of them will grow to be destination travelers. And the equipment manufacturers have really stepped up. The Aspens, the Vails, the Steamboats and the Squaw Valleys, those top resorts will never be the low-cost providers, but there are still a lot of resorts that are good at making the cost of skiing approachable. China says it will have 300 million skiers by the 2022 Beijing Olympics, and I wouldn't bet against that.