The sale of Northstar-at-Tahoe from Booth Creek to Vail Resorts earlier this week startled many skiers and snowboarders. But some passholders found pleasant surprises in the deal, as the dust settled.
The Northstar sale was kept under wraps until it hit the press Monday. "Within the leadership of the ski clubs, it was a surprise. It was quite a shock," Jo Simpson, president of the Sierra Ski Council, told OnTheSnow.
She and her husband, both Northstar passholders, train for masters racing at the resort, and her concerns addressed the future of ski racing. "Northstar runs an excellent youth race program," she said. "I hope that the program isn't impacted. We'll have to go through a season and see how things change. We've enjoyed Vail Resorts at Heavenly and in Colorado, and they've also been a great partner and supporter of Far West Ski Association. But personally, I'm in a wait-and-see mode."
The announcement of the sale sparked no reaction in the way of comments or letters to the editor in the local newspaper, the Sierra Sun in Truckee. But the Reno Gazette-Journal picked up a few responses that expressed fear of ticket price increases.
Northstar Facebook fans went into a tizzy, but only a few comments supported or opposed the acquisition. One anti-Vail Resorts writer ranted about corporate greed, while the bulk of fans voiced concerns wondering how the sale affected their season passes.
The sale created a complex situation for season passholders since Northstar's Double Whammy passes were valid at Sierra-at-Tahoe, a sister Booth Creek resort. Sierra skiers with the two-resort passes wondered if they would be left out in the cold as Sierra was not part of the sale to Vail.
"We were getting ready for the season and all of a sudden Northstar was sold," Matt Lishman, who primarily skis Sierra, said. He was prepared to ski three resorts this winter, having purchased a Double Whammy pass and a Squaw Valley pass. "The big question was, what did the sale mean for the passes?"
Northstar-at-Tahoe and Vail Resorts issued a statement in response to the season pass question. Vail Resort's Epic Pass bumped from being valid at six resorts to eight, to include Northstar-at-Tahoe and Sierra-at-Tahoe this year. Unlimited Double Whammy passholders can trade their passes in for an Epic Pass and a partial refund. Some of the other Double Whammy season pass products added on skiing at Heavenly, a Vail Resort on the opposite end of the lake. Heavenly passholders will also have access to Northstar and Sierra with some restricted dates.
Skiers like Lishman found a boon for this winter in the sale. His Double Whammy pass now added access to Heavenly. "I was totally excited to hear we got another ski area this year. It makes people rethink to get the pass to ski three areas," he said. "As far as next year, who knows? But for this year it's awesome."
Passholders were not the only ones looking toward this winter with grins. Marketing and real estate groups pronounced the sale as a good step for Northstar and for the Tahoe region. "Vail's investment of $63 million in Tahoe is significant, and so is the fact that it's their second investment in the area. It shows there's confidence in the destination," Carl Ribaudo, president of Strategic Marketing Group in South Lake Tahoe, told OnTheSnow.
Ribaudo sees Vail's investment as more than a boost to Tahoe, but also as a signal to other investors. "Whenever you see an outside company like that invest, it says something positive to other investors," he said. "Investments like that have a ripple effect throughout the industry and with partners."
Real estate may also feel a boost. The market at Northstar, with some properties listed for up to $5 million, has stagnated in the sluggish economy. That's true with real estate elsewhere as well.
We asked Kevin Sheridan, owner and broker for Northstar Real Estate, what he thought the impact of the Vail ownership might be on the slow real estate market. "I haven't heard one negative comment," he said. "Vail has a huge reputation in the ski industry. They run a good operation generally considered to be high end with a real high customer satisfaction level. If Vail bought Northstar and analyzed it, then maybe other people will follow their lead."
"This creates a buzz," he added. "Just like when East West got their approval here (to develop the Ritz Carlton), property values went up. This may be one more positive reason to buy at Northstar."
For many skiers and snowboarders, what Vail intends to do with its Northstar investment remains to be seen. Jon Canton, who has skied the Tahoe resorts for 20 years, added his hopes to the mix. "I know Vail has been in the industry for a very long time and is very familiar with the luxury resort business," he said. "For that reason, I think Northstar can benefit from their experience and hopefully continue to upgrade the mountain with new technology, equipment, and service."
Vail Resorts also owns Mountain News Corp., publishers of this Web site. OnTheSnow.com and this newsroom operate independently of that ownership. Vail Resorts is a publicly held company traded on the New York Stock.