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by Phil Yacuboski

 

Drop the name “Vail” to anyone in the ski industry and the first thing that comes to mind is probably a first-class Rocky Mountains resort. What many argue will be the first-class experience of Vail is about to come to the Poconos with the purchase of Jack Frost and Big Boulder Ski Resorts in Carbon County.

“I really hope, and I think everyone in the area really hopes, that improvements will be made to both ski areas,” Dieter Kirschner, owner of Alpina Ski Shop and 940 Snowboards, which is near what has been known as the ‘big two’ resorts.

“They need some capital investments and they need some lodging upgrades,” he said. “They need the money.”

In July, Vail Resorts announced its latest expansion, buying 17 ski resorts owned by Peak Resorts, including Jack Frost and Big Boulder, as well as Hunter Mountain in New York’s Catskill Mountains, Mount Snow in Vermont, Liberty Mountain (near Gettysburg), Ski Roundtop (near York) and Ski Whitetail (north of Hagerstown, Maryland). All of the purchases are within a two hour drive of a major metropolitan area.

“I think from everything that we have been hearing, they really invest in it very heavily,” said Chris Barrett, president and CEO of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau. “If there’s new capital investment in both properties, that’s good. It means a newer and fresh product and something we can continue to market aggressively.”

Aside from its flagship resort in Colorado, Vail also owns a number of big name ski resorts including Whistler Blackcomb, Telluride, Vermont’s famed Stowe Resort, Utah’s Park City and resorts in Japan and Italy. Those interested can buy a ‘Peak Pass,’ which allows you to ski all of the mountains in its network. The passes sell for less than $1,000 each.

Barrett said he thinks that will give people who may not think of the Poconos as a weekend destination, a sample.

“With all of the resorts they have in their family, we might be introducing the Poconos to new guests,” he said. “Everything we hear is very positive.”

He cited recent capital investments in Camelback Ski Resort with its hotel and waterpark as proof that the Poconos is a good place to work, play and do business.

“You can see it’s become a major attraction for us,” he said.

Big Boulder was the first commercial ski area in Pennsylvania when it opened in the 1940s, built by the owners of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company as resort for its employees. It introduced snowmaking in 1956. Jack Frost was built in 1972.

“The facilities are starting to show some age and hopefully they will dump some money into these ski areas,” said Kirschner. “That’s our hope. I think it’s a good thing.”

He’s also hoping for the properties to be used more during the off-season.

“We are also hoping that they also do some year-round stuff like they used to do. Stuff like that. It can’t hurt anything in the area,” he said. “It’s got to be better than not doing it at all.”

In the past few years, Vail has been slowly buying up ski resort properties expanding its portfolio.

“We’re looking forward to the new ownership and what it has to offer,” said Barrett.

“We are incredibly excited to have the opportunity to add such a powerful network of ski areas to our company,” said Rob Katz, chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts in a statement. “With this acquisition, we are also able to make a much stronger connection to guests in critical cities in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest and build on the success we have already seen with our strategy.”

The deal is worth about $264 million, according to the company. The purchase is contingent on cash and credit; they will also refinance the debt of the current properties.