On December 4, 2012 KSL Capital Partners announced that they were purchasing a 24% share of Whistler Blackcomb from Intrawest, drawing to a close Whistler’s Intrawest chapter that began in 1986. This is great news for West Coast skiers who enjoy skiing some of the best terrain on the planet. KSL Partners, a private equity firm, has owned Squaw Valley since 2010 and Alpine Meadows since 2011.
“Whistler Blackcomb is the largest and most visited ski resort in North America, and we feel that it complements our portfolio of premier travel and leisure properties,” said KSL managing director Eric Resnick.
Passholders at both ski areas will be anxiously awaiting enhanced benefits. Already this year there was a surprise announcement on December 6 that Gold Passholders at Squaw/Alpine will get two free days of skiing at Whistler Blackcomb and $25 off lift tickets for additional days. Hopefully this will morph into further reciprocal privileges along the lines of the newly created Mountain Collective pass that includes Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Alta and Sierra-at-Tahoe, which competes with Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass that includes seven resorts in California and Colorado.
This move is consistent with the trend toward ownership by large corporations that can leverage benefits, such as shared passes between ski areas, when they own multiple mountains. Sometimes the resorts are neighbors, such as adjacent Squaw and Alpine, but in other cases they are geographically scattered, as is the case with Vail Resorts, who owns Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood in California, and Vail, Keystone and Beaver Creek in Colorado. British Columbia-based Whistler may feel farther away since it is located in another country, but it’s about the same distance as Colorado (Tahoe City to Whistler is 967 miles; Tahoe City to Vail is 942 miles).
This year Outside Magazine rated Squaw Valley the #1 ski area in North America, while Alpine Meadows came in a respectable #37. Whistler Blackcomb has often taken the #1 spot in the annual SKI Magazine survey and this year is no exception, while ranking #3 in the 2012 Outside Magazine survey. Pairing two of the best mountains in North American creates a skiing powerhouse.
The combined terrain is massive, with Squaw/Alpine having over 6,000 skiable acres spread across eight Sierra Nevada mountain peaks while Whistler Blackcomb weighs in with an impressive 8,171 acres between the two adjacent ski areas. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are currently only connected by ground transportation, with a shuttle that travels continuously between the two areas, while Whistler and Blackcomb are tied together through a network of gondolas and lifts at the base, and the 2.7 mile (4.4 km) Peak to Peak gondola. The Whistler website offers an interactive map that overlays the acreage of major ski areas on a map of Whistler Blackcomb to illustrate the size of their terrain.
An affiliate of Denver-based KSL Capital Partners purchased their 24% stake in Whistler Blackcomb for $116 million, receiving 9.09 million shares, according to the press release. Eric Resnick and Peter McDermott, both of KSL, were appointed to the board of directors of Whistler Blackcomb. Mr. Resnick is co-founder and Managing Director of KSL and has deep, long-standing ties to the ski industry. Mr. McDermott is a partner at KSL. “KSL is delighted to be acquiring a 24% interest in a world-class ski area. Peter and I are looking forward to working with the board to grow the business. Whistler Blackcomb has a very experienced and successful management team and we are enthusiastic to work with them as they continue to deliver a fantastic mountain experience for Whistler Blackcomb’s guests” commented Mr. Resnick. Whistler Blackcomb Holdings (TSX: WB) continues to own 75% of the resort.
Skiers and riders will be waiting for the next announcement with bated breath as ski areas around the country consolidate into a few mega-corporations.
Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows
To reach Squaw Valley, located in Tahoe City, Calif. from San Francisco by car (200 miles; approximately 4 hours, depending on traffic and weather):
- Take Interstate 80 northeast into the Sierra Nevada.
- Exit at Truckee, onto Highway 89 South, towards Lake Tahoe/Tahoe City/Squaw Valley.
- Squaw Valley: Follow Highway 89 south ; turn right on Squaw Valley Rd. to the base of the mountain.
- Alpine Meadows: Follow Highway 89 south ; turn right on Alpine Meadows Rd. to the base of the mountain.
To reach Whistler Blackcomb, located in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, from Tahoe or the San Francisco Bay Area, fly to Vancouver International Airport (YVR), then rent a car or take the Perimeter bus for the 1.5-2 hour drive to Whistler Village on the scenic Sea to Sky Highway.