Deer Valley Sold, but not Solitude
What Happens When a Wasatch Power Couple Goes Their Separate Ways
Resort partnerships and ownership changes are nothing new in the ski industry. In the past few years, the Wasatch resorts have resembled a chessboard of sorts. Before the dust settled on Vail Resorts’ purchase of Park City and its union with Canyons, Deer Valley purchased Solitude in May 2015—I know I didn’t see that coming.
Now two short years later, Deer Valley sold and has joined a new ownership group, with a working title of NEWCO, which is a typical title given to new corporations as paperwork and structure are being finalized.
We all have questions as to what happens now: snowboarding at Deer Valley? Combo passes to (fill in the blank)? More or less expensive skiing? And what about Solitude—will it continue on its improvement path? And who the hell is in charge at both resorts? Here are a few answers we found.
SOLITUDE: Same Ownership, Continued Improvements
Two years ago, Deer Valley’s purchase of Solitude seemed to be a marriage of opposites: Deer Valley’s ying to Solitude’s yang, so to speak. In a short time, Deer Valley’s “Midas Touch” came over Solitude and improved, well, everything. Updated lifts, better food, reciprocal pass benefits. Skiers and boarders were the true winners, and both resorts maintained their different identities.
Following the sale of Deer Valley, business at Solitude will continue as usual. The resort is still owned by Deer Valley’s original partners, Royal Street Corporation and Red Gables Corporation, who purchased it in May 2015. Royal Street Corporation (Lessing Stern, chairman of the board) and Red Gables Corporation (Roger Penske, chairman of the board) have been responsible for building and managing Deer Valley for the past few decades and will continue at the helm of Solitude.
I asked Sherri Harkin, marketing and communication manager at Solitude, if the resort was for sale, and her answer was a resounding “no.” Not that I could have afforded to make an offer (I’m thinking Mr. Stern and Mr. Penske made a few bucks in selling Deer Valley) they don’t want or need to sell Solitude. “There will be no changes to the current management team,” says Harkin. “Kim Mayhew will continue in her role as general manager at Solitude.”
“The partners see this transition as an opportunity to continue to grow Solitude’s brand and business, and this change does not deflect from our commitment, or the partner’s commitment, to continue the momentum to grow the resort.” said general manager, Kim Mayhew. Sounds like good news to me.
DEER VALLEY: New Ownership, Same Staff
Deer Valley sold this summer to a newly formed ownership group. Let’s take a minute to make heads and tails of who and what is involved.
KSL Capital Partners has been around for over a decade, and have a proven track record in acquiring, holding, and improving resorts. Many of these resorts are in the ski industry, most notably Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. In April 2017 KSL acquired Intrawest, which includes a half-dozen or so resorts, and then went on to purchase Mammoth.
This July, KSL and Henry Crown & Company, who own the four Aspen resorts, created a new partnership. These two companies did not combine, instead, they created a new company that affiliates from each are owners of, which is NEWCO. This partnership brings together the Alpine and Squaw resorts, Intrawest, and Mammoth under one umbrella. The Aspen resorts are not part of NEWCO but are closely associated by sharing an owner (that’s the Crown’s if you’re paying attention). It’s this new group that purchased Deer Valley in August 2017, bringing the total to 12 resorts.
Deer Valley is a perennial #1 ranked resort but is still striving to improve as they wrap up another busy summer. In fact, that’s what has Deer Valley president and COO Bob Wheaton excited, as the new owners have shown their priority is to support the individual resorts from day one. “First of all, there have been zero staff changes,” says Wheaton. “Our skiers should be reassured that the new owners have the same goals and priorities as we’ve had for the past 37 years.”
The ski industry is relatively small on the grand scale of things, with most of the leading industry names knowing each other well. Utah is famous for how resorts, who are inherently competitors, work well together. Case in point: trade organizations like Ski Utah and Visit Salt Lake/Ski City and season pass reciprocal benefits (see below).
With Deer Valley now calling a dozen or so other resorts “family,” Wheaton points to a new ability to share information and enhance “day-to-day operations by using new resources that will improve best practices for all resorts involved.” Sounds like the answer to improving a top-ranked resort is collaboration and cooperation, just so long as no one messes with the elk chili recipe.
SEASON PASSES: More Skiing, Less Money
Whether it was a response to increased competition. or avoiding season pass wars amongst groups with few resorts in their portfolio, a plethora of combination passes came on the market a few years ago. Who really cares why though—more options to slide on snow are always a good thing. In Utah’s there’s the Wasatch Benefit, M.A.X. Pass, the Mountain Collective, and Vail’s Epic Pass. The point is more skiing, less cost. And fire up the truck for a road trip to wherever it’s snowing.
For 2017-18, Solitude will maintain its season pass reciprocal program benefits, such as the Wasatch Benefit, which includes two days to Deer Valley, Alta, and Snowbird. Add to that two days to Brighton Resort and the M.A.X. Pass add-on on that earns five days of skiing at over 40 resorts across North America.
Eligible Deer Valley passes continue to include the Wasatch Benefit – earning three days at Alta and Snowbird, plus four passes to Solitude. You’ll also get two days at Brighton.
In the future, it’s anyone’s guess if the 12 resorts part of Deer Valley’s ownership group will share lift privileges, and whether or not the four Aspen resorts will be part of that. “That’s for a future discussion,” says Wheaton. “It’s certainly going to be a conversation we’ll have, but for now our focus is on opening day.