• Original Reporting
  • Sources Cited
Original Reporting This article contains new, firsthand information uncovered by its reporter(s). This includes directly interviewing sources and research / analysis of primary source documents.
Sources Cited As a news piece, this article cites verifiable, third-party sources which have all been thoroughly fact-checked and deemed credible by the Newsroom in accordance with the Civil Constitution.
Skiers arrive at bottom of Gondola One at Vail Resort on Wednesday, November 17, 2021, in Vail. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Vail Resorts’ decision to cut the price of its Epic Passes by 20% spurred 2.1 million skiers to buy the passes, which range from early purchased day tickets to unrestricted, season-long access.

That’s a 700,000 bump in passes from 2020-21 and 900,000 more than than the 2019-20 season. 

The company on Thursday reported its earnings for the first quarter of its fiscal 2022 year, which ended Oct. 31. Since summer operations at its resorts are winding down in August, September and October, the company always posts a loss in the first quarter. And this year was no different, with Vail Resorts reporting a loss of $139.3 million for the quarter, compared to $153.8 in the same quarter last year. 

But the first quarter report gives investors a glimpse into the coming season. The number of season passes the company sold climbed 47% for the 2021-22 season compared to the previous season and revenue from those pass sales climbed 21%. Pass sales for 2021-22 are up 76% compared to the 2019-2020 season.

Vail Resorts’ new chief executive Kirsten Lynch told investors Thursday that while there was strong growth in number of skiers renewing their passes for the season, there was “significantly stronger” growth in the number of new pass buyers, including skiers who previously purchased lift tickets and guests who had never purchased anything from Vail Resorts.

“We significantly outperformed our original expectations for pass sales,” Lynch said in her first earning calls with investors as CEO. 

The number of destination skiers — visitors from afar who travel to Vail Resorts ski areas for vacations — buying Epic Passes has nearly doubled in the past two years. The company’s long term goal is to have 75% of its ticket ticket revenue come from skiers buying passes and tickets long before they arrive at the ski areas.

Lynch called skiers committing early to season passes a “scalable subscription model” that creates stability for a traditionally up-and-down flow of revenue.

Lynch noted “challenging conditions” to the start of the 2021-22 season, with delayed openings and limited terrain. Still, she said, lodging bookings at the company’s U.S. resorts are trending ahead of 2019-20. 

Vail Resorts on Wednesday announced it was spending $125 million for Pennsylvania’s Seven Springs, Hidden Valley and Laurel Mountain ski areas, which includes a 418-room hotel and conference center about 65 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. 

(The Nutting family that sold the resorts earlier this month announced it was acquiring Swift Media, which owns several Colorado ski town newspapers like the Aspen Times, Steamboat Pilot, Summit Daily and Vail Daily.)

Lynch said the resorts’ proximity to major metropolitan areas like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore and Washington D.C. is part of the appeal for Vail Resorts, which in 2019 spent $264 million for 17 Peak Resorts ski areas in the East and Midwest. 

“This is very consistent for with our strategy for acquisitions,” Lynch said. 

Vail Resorts told investors it expected the new resorts and the hotel to generate about $15 million in earnings a year. That puts the value of the Pennsylvania ski areas around 8.3-times earnings, which is in line with historic valuations of ski areas. 

Vail Resorts this week ended sales of its 2021-22 Epic Passes and has begun limiting day lift tickets during peak holiday times. For example, Vail is not selling lift tickets for Dec. 30. Keystone is not selling tickets for Jan. 1. Breckenridge is sold-out for Dec. 27, 28 and 30.

One investment broker asked how the resort will handle limited ticket sales during peak periods.

Lynch said the company has blanketed their guests with notices of limited ticket sales during the season’s three holiday peak periods. 

“Really, ultimately, what our broad message is that we really want our guests to purchase in advance,” Lynch said. 

The company in September announced plans for $315 million to $325 million in capital improvements at its resorts, which ranks about $150 million above its typical annual investment. The investment plan includes installing 21 new lifts at 14 resorts and a terrain expansion at Keystone.

Vail Resorts told investors to expect earnings for the fiscal year to land between $785 million and $835 million. That compares to $544.7 million in earnings in fiscal year 2021, $503.3 million fiscal year 2020 and $706.7 million in 2019. If the 2021-22 ski season goes as Vail Resorts has scripted, earnings above $785 million will mark a record for the company.

Jason Blevins lives in Eagle with his wife, daughters and a dog named Gravy. Topic expertise: Western Slope, public lands, outdoors, ski industry, mountain business, housing, interesting things Location: Eagle, CO Newsletter: The...