Judge Approves Jay Peak Sale to Pacific Group Resorts – Now Let’s Talk Burke
Who will buy the NEK’s other bomber ski area?
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Let’s cross “buy Jay Peak” off our to-do list and focus on little-brother Burke
OK let’s cover the Jay Peak part of this at superspeed, since I’m at risk of making this nationwide newsletter into the Jay Peak Digest if I don’t check myself: on Friday, a U.S. District Court judge approved Pacific Resorts Group’s [PGRI] $76 million bid to buy the resort, calling it “a pretty good resolution,” according to Vermont Digger. The story also confirms that two other bidders competed against PGRI, that it took 48 rounds of bidding to close this thing, and that $70 million was likely on its way to defrauded investors, who are recouping around 40 cents on the dollar for their trouble. Which is not as bad of an investment as buying, say, an F-150. PGRI still has to clear a few other formalities, as Jay Peak GM Steve Wright laid out for me in a podcast conversation last Friday (paid subscribers received this on Friday – it will land for the rest of you tomorrow morning).
So that’s Jay. And while PGRI determines what it’s going to do with its new toy – will the resort stay on Indy Pass? Will the Mission: Affordable pass land at Jay? Will we get a new Bonaventure lift? What will reciprocity look like between the company’s six resorts? – we can now turn our attention to Burke, the other Vermont ski area that professional dumbass Ariel Quiros almost ruined. I won’t belabor how we got here – Quiros owned both resorts, he lost both in the same EB-5 scandal, Jay was ready to sell almost right away but Burke took longer because the court-appointed receiver was trying to satisfy some EB-5 jobs requirements related to the Taj Mahal-size hotel Quiros built at the base of the summit quad, hoping that this would land a better payout for investors.
But I’m so tired of writing about this stupid scandal and all its nuances, so let’s just talk about the mountain, which the receiver – Michael Goldberg – indicated in court on Friday was finally close to a sale.
Vertical drop: 2,011 feet (1,210-foot base, 3,267-foot summit)
Skiable acres: 178
Number of runs: 54 runs (12% double-black, 33% single-black, 48% blue, 8% green)
Average annual snowfall: 217 inches
Lift fleet: 5 lifts: 2 high-speed quads, 1 T-bar, 1 J-bar, 1 carpet (view Lift Blog’s inventory of Burke’s lift fleet)
Closest Indy partners: Cannon (1 hour, 2 minutes), Jay Peak (1 hour, 15 minutes)
Pass coalitions: Indy Pass Allied partner – skiers get half off Burke lift tickets during the week, and 25 percent off on holidays and peak-season weekends (Dec. 24 to March 12).
Burke is an absolute treasure. The glades are a riot. And there are a lot of them. Like, an unfair amount for a mountain of this size. Some people call it a mini-Jay Peak, which is accurate terrain-wise, though the place gets quite a bit less snow (Jay averages 349 inches). With almost no crowds and a high-speed lift that lets you run 1,600-vertical-foot fast laps off the summit, this is one of the best mountains in the country on which to absolutely stack vert.
The sparse crowds are due to two factors: skiers think Burke is farther than it is, and there are lots of other great ski areas in Vermont. When you look at a map, Burke does look far from everything, lodged in the great Northeast Kingdom, beyond just about every other major New England ski area other than Jay, Sugarloaf, and Saddleback. But the Burke skier’s secret weapon is Interstate 91, which drops them off just eight miles from the mountain’s front door.
For a long time, Burke and Jay shared a season pass. That ended last season as Jay prepared for a sale. Goldberg never publicized any notion to sell the two ski areas as one. Why, I’m not exactly certain, though my guess is that they would command more as individual entities, and neither would be beholden to the other’s legal or regulatory status as a term of a sale.
Anyway, how much would Burke sell for, and who would buy it? Well, it’s smaller and less built out than Jay, and the pricetag would reflect that. The mountain tried fighting its $18.7 million town valuation in 2020, but a court upheld it. So let’s say it would be somewhere in that neighborhood, meaning you would need a serious group of investors to buy it.
So who could that be? Well, I already know who it will (likely) be, but I’ll humor the question. Let’s eliminate Vail and Alterra right away. Both already own multiple major Vermont resorts. Neither is likely to want a smaller, farther mountain that’s unlikely to feed any local skiers into its larger properties. Powdr? Eh. They have Killington. And Pico. Boyne – that’s interesting. They’re the only national industry player without a Vermont ski area, and Burke may appeal to them after they balked at the high price of Jay. But what would Burke give Boyne that would be additive to its portfolio? Nothing, really. Driving across New England is a pain in the ass – Burke skiers who want a destination have plenty to choose from in Vermont or just south in New Hampshire.
So I don’t see any of the four big fellas laying out for Burke. Which is mostly important as a signal that the ski area is likely to remain outside of the major national megapasses, which is the one change that could finally blow the doors off this long-ignored joint.
But what about PGRI? Could Jay’s new owner reunite these lost cousins? Probably not. I have to imagine $78 million was a stretch for them. And that new Bonaventure lift might cost as much as Burke.
That’s as far as I’m going to go today. If the entity that I believe is going to buy Burke ends up buying Burke, Vermont skiers will like it. A lot. With Goldberg’s attention finally off Jay and onto his smaller pain-in-the-ass, I may be able to write that story very soon. If you haven’t signed up for the email newsletter yet, that is going to be the fastest way possible to get that news the second it breaks:
Indy Pass sales explode
Indy Pass’ 2021 price increase – to $279 after sitting at $199 for its first two seasons – hit hard. Following a full-throttle 2020-21 pandemic season, Indy Pass founder Doug Fish had predicted 400,000 skier visits for 2021-22. They landed around 125,000 instead. When he joined me on the podcast in May, Fish blamed the price increase for this big projection miss.
The hangover appears to be gone. Last week, Indy said that, as of the Sept. 14 price increase, revenue was up 67 percent and units sold had increased 52 percent over the previous season. While we don’t know how many passes Indy sells, and the baseline is likely quite low – think somewhere in the low- to mid-ten-thousands – this is promising momentum as the pass enters its fourth ski season with close to 100 downhill partners.
In a follow-up conversation on Saturday morning, Fish couldn’t assign credit for the increases to any single factor. While he did note that website traffic and sales both jumped after the Mt. Hood Meadows partner announcement in July, he attributed the overall sales surge to a combination of factors.
“Indy’s growth seems to be organic,” he said. “I think this is due to general increases in awareness, word of mouth, or the quality of resorts that we have. I don’t know if it’s a factor of a specific resort, or gaining such density and finally some notoriety that people who take one ski vacation per year are hearing about it and realizing, ‘hey, this one pass will work pretty well for me.’”
Fish did note website traffic and sales jumps in the West and South – currently, around half of Indy’s sales are in the Northeast, and another 25 percent are in the Midwest, where Indy has established the greatest density of partners.
Regardless of what Indy’s data say, it’s hard to think that the 39 partners Indy has added since April – 15 downhill, 14 cross-country, and 10 as part of the Allied discount program – haven’t helped boost sales, particularly the additions of marquee regional names Nub’s Nob, Michigan and Mountain High, California; and the monster Mt. Hood Meadows signing on. Fish said several more cross-country and Allied partners were on the way later this month. We can expect more new downhill partners for the 2022-23 season, too, though Fish said he is likely to see how the numbers sort out this season before adding more full Midwest or New England partners.
“We don’t want to go too crazy in a market like New England, because we could cannibalize season pass sales,” he said.
Still, Fish has paused on adding new mountains in New England in the past, only to re-open the gates once he’d tallied the numbers. “We added more resorts this year [Black Mountain and Big Rock, both in Maine] because we didn’t see a bump in average pass usage last season, even though we created more density,” he said. He wouldn’t say how many days the average Indy Pass holder redeemed.
Indy’s story is just beginning. It just turned 3. I think this thing could hit 200 full downhill partners – not all in U.S. America – before it’s 10 years old. The Allied list could hit triple digits too. What an amazing thing this is.
Below the paid subscriber jump: Winter Park’s surprise expansion, a huge night-skiing expansion in the Pacific Northwest, Sierra-at-Tahoe’s fire recovery continues, an unexpected glade addition, a Colorado ski area rises from the dead, can Maine handle another large ski area? and more.