#1: Vail Has $1.3B in the Bank. What Will They Do Next?
Hello and welcome to Top Five Fridays, the July 2, 2021 edition! This week ski news slowed to a trickle as snow is increasingly hard to come by here in North America in the midst of peak off-season. Still, as has proven to be the case for many years, ski news never completely stops. As such, we start this week with the most intriguing headline we could find: Vail’s officially emerged from the pandemic season victoriously and in a strong financial position. In an article published by the Summit Daily, we learned some details regarding a call between Vail and its investors that took place last month. The most notable takeaway from that call is a two parter: Vail’s cash reserves are currently sitting at approximately $1.3B, and Vail’s management team remains intent on taking an aggressive approach towards acquisitions. Prior to this past season, Vail was on an absolute tear in terms of purchasing ski resorts and adding them to their Epic Pass. During the pandemic however, the company was forced to pull back on their acquisition strategy in an effort to ensure they’d survive a difficult season. Now that COVID-19 is seemingly behind is, at least here in North America, Vail is expressing interest in shifting out of conservation mode, and back into growth mode.
In the call with investors, Vail CEO Rob Katz was relatively tight-lipped about specific acquisition plans, either as a result of not having any or an unwillingness to show his hand. Still, based on the level of excitement in his responses to investor questions, we’re able to glean a few hints about where Vail may be heading next. When asked about further acquisitions in the Northeast, Katz cited the successful acquisition of Peak Resorts and their 17 mountains as a testament to their previous foresight, but not necessarily an indicator of their next moves. To that point, Katz simply stated that Vail would remain aggressive in the pursuit of acquisitions that made sense. That seemingly canned response stood in stark contrast to his reaction to an inquiry regarding Vail’s interest in expanding into Europe and Asia. In response to that question, Katz made several comments about how and why adding resorts specifically in Japan would make good strategic sense for the business, citing both tourism trends as well as the geographical benefits of adding more resorts in closer proximity to its holdings in New Zealand and Australia. Ultimately, while we were unable to learn of any specific plans (such as whether Vail will buy Stowe’s neighbor resort Smuggler’s Notch and ultimately merge the two), the takeaway remains significant: Vail is sitting on a mountain of cash and isn’t afraid to use it. With that in mind, it feels like only a matter of time before we’re sharing news of a new acquisition made by Vail. Until then, you can learn more about Rob Katz’s recent comments to investors in this report from the Summit Daily.
#2: Teton County Search and Rescue Releases 6-Month Incidents Report and the Data is Illuminating:
In other news this week, our next highlight is a little bit different from our normal approach here on Top Five Fridays. While we typically find ourselves sharing headlines, our second highlight this week is actually a 6-month rescue report from Teton County Search and Rescue. Although the TCSAR releases these reports every 6 months, it’s the first one we’ve dug into, and the experience was nothing short of illuminating. As you might recall from last week’s news, Colorado Governor Jared Polis recently signed a bill that would in part provide $750k to Colorado’s avalanche information center. While the TCSAR is in a different state, deals with year round rescues, and isn’t an avalanche center, last week’s news is worth keeping in the back of your mind as you read the TCSAR’s rescue report as it highlights the importance of keeping organizations devoted to backcountry safety well funded.
Now, let’s talk about the report. One of the things that makes this report so interesting is the level of detail it goes into, as well as the graphics showing the data collected about the incidents within the last 6 months. Of the information provided, perhaps the most impactful for readers of the report are the individual incident summaries. Over the course of the 6 months spanning from 12/1/20 - 5/31/21, there were well over 40 rescue missions documented, totalling 1,812 rescue hours. In the report, each and every one of these rescues is recapped, complete with a summary of the event as well as relevant data such as how long the rescue took, and how many TCSAR team members were on the scene. While each report is interesting and insightful to read, it’s the accumulation of all of the rescue reports that really put into perspective the many ways things can go wrong in the backcountry and what it takes to get those involved back to safety. It also shines a light on the importance of organizations like the TCSAR, and how crucial their existence is in locations where backcountry recreation is continuing to grow in popularity. Of course as is always the case with reports like this, the depth of information contained is too much to properly convey here on Top Five Fridays. So, rather than explain the report further, we’ll simply encourage you to go check it out for yourself to see all the great data it contains.
#3: Snowbird Resort Unveils its Upgraded Cogeneration Power System:
Next up this week is some exciting news from Snowbird, where a full revamp of their power system has just been unveiled. Built to update and replace the resort’s previous power system, which was created in 1987, this new iteration uses an updated cogeneration system that will enable it to efficiently power and heat 100% of the resort. With the new system, Snowbird will be able to retain the heat produced from the generation of electricity, and reroute it to heat its buildings and water without requiring new energy sources for these needs. In other words, not only does this new system make Snowbird 100% energy independent, but it does so in a way that’s environmentally friendly as increased efficiencies reduce their overall energy requirements.
While this week’s news is most exciting for Snowbird, it’s also positive news in terms of the bigger picture. With this announcement, we have yet another example of an ongoing trend of ski resorts actually taking strides to fight climate change. Back at the beginning of June, we shared with you an article highlighting Aspen Skiing Co’s conversion of an old coal mine into a power plant that turned the methane leaking from the mine into usable power. Then, just a week later, we briefly shared the news that Alterra, Vail, Boyne Resorts, and POWDR had all signed a “Climate Collaborative Charter” to signify their unified commitment to take actions against climate change. So, while Snowbird’s announcement this week is certainly monumental for the resort itself, it grows even further in importance when viewed as yet another example of how the ski industry leads the world in efforts to fight climate change. To learn more about Snowbird’s new power system, check out the press release here.
#4: Vasu Sojitra and Pete McAfee Complete Disabled Ski Descent Down Denali, Believed to Be the First Ever:
Finally, we end this week with a highlight that’ll warm any human with a heart. This week, Outside Online shared the news that athletes Vasu Sojitra and Pete McAfee have (very likely) become the first ever disabled skiers to descend Alaska’s Denali. More specifically, both of these athletes are missing their right legs. While that setback would be considered insurmountable by many, these two athletes are well versed in making first ascents and descents in the name of the disabled community. In the words of Vasu, “These First Disabled Descents aren’t about me or Pete or any one individual person… FDDs showcase and represent the power we as Disabled people have when provided access to opportunities and resources.” Adding to the challenges of ascending and descending the 17,000’ tall mountain with only one leg, were difficult weather conditions that forced the team to move rapidly through weather windows, take risks, and push themselves to the brink. In the recap of the accomplishment, mountaineer and filmmaker Erich Roepke, who joined and filmed them on the trip, shared that, “We walked from 14,000 feet to 17,000 in a Ping-Pong ball,” a reference to the near whiteout conditions the team hiked through to reach the summit. Making matters worse, ski conditions were equally as bad as thin snowpack rendered a majority of the most popular descents unskiable, while incoming storms forced the group to rapidly depart from the peak. The result was a lightning fast departure down a route which was nobody’s first choice, in which the crew made it from the peak of Denali to the airstrip in 24 hours. All in all, it sounds like a chaotic experience, which only further adds to the impressive nature of the story. Fortunately for us, Roepke and his crew had cameras rolling the entire time, with plans of releasing a short documentary about the expedition sometime in winter 2021-2022. When it comes out, we’ll be sure to share it as one of our edits of the week. For now, head over to Outside Online to read more details about this amazing story.