Vail Resorts buys Kirkwood Mountain Resort

02/23/2012 12:00 AM

02/22/2012 9:52 PM

Kirkwood Mountain Resort is being sold to a big Colorado ski conglomerate in the latest example of big out-of-state money cascading into the Lake Tahoe area.

Located 30 miles south of Tahoe, in a remote part of Alpine County, Kirkwood said Wednesday it is being sold for $18 million to Vail Resorts Inc. of Broomfield, Colo. The sale includes a few acres of land available for development.

By acquiring Kirkwood, the $1 billion-a-year Vail Resorts will now control three Tahoe-area resorts. The others are Heavenly and Northstar-at-Tahoe. The deal sets up the three locations as a single magnet destination, said resort consultant Ralf Garrison.

That will better position Tahoe to compete with Colorado and Utah in the fight for well-heeled tourists from across the country and around the world, said Garrison, director and senior analyst at Advisory Group Inc. of Denver. Currently, most Tahoe visitors are day-trippers or weekend travelers from Northern California.

One immediate impact: Kirkwood pass holders can use their tickets at Heavenly and Northstar, and vice versa.

That paid immediate dividends for some tourists Wednesday, said Vail Resorts co-President Blaise Carrig, who was visiting Heavenly the morning of the announcement.

"We've actually seen some Kirkwood people show up," he said.

Dave Likins, chief executive of Kirkwood, said skiers and snowboarders increasingly want access to multiple venues on a single ticket. Selling the resort to Vail gives Kirkwood a better chance to compete in that league.

"It's very important to have choices," he said.

Similar thinking prompted Squaw Valley to take over Alpine Meadows last fall.

Garrison said buying Kirkwood is "a logical expansion" for Vail Resorts. It's good for Kirkwood, too.

"In many ways, from my perspective, Kirkwood is an underappreciated resort," he said. "It's a little too small and a little too far outside the Tahoe basin to be a major player. As part of a team, it makes perfect sense."

After Vail took over Northstar in late 2010, by spending $63 million for a long-term lease, it upgraded the village shops and built a dining lodge on the mountain.

Carrig, however, said Vail doesn't expect to make immediate changes at Kirkwood.

"It's got a very cool vibe, a small community feel," he said. "It's going to be important that we maintain that."

Likins said Kirkwood's sister company, Kirkwood Mountain Development, is keeping the surrounding acreage, which is zoned for residential development. Kirkwood also will get a slice of the profits from development undertaken by Vail at the resort itself.

Vail first moved into the Tahoe region a decade ago, when it bought Heavenly for $100 million.

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