Two New Owners Seek to Supercharge Windham’s Destination Resort Ambitions
Plus: a look at potential Powder Mountain upgrades under renewed ownership.
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The Sun Valley of New York State
To venture deeply into New York skiing is to slide into the past. Lift-side parking. Gravel lots. Sixty-year-old Hall doubles spinning up the incline. A sprawling but utilitarian baselodge. Inside: a fireplace, a too-small bathroom, $6 chicken tenders, table-hoarding raceparents who don’t ski. Fifty-dollar lift tickets – on a holiday. In a hyperactive, hyper-consolidating ski world, New York plays the quaint outlier, a realm of family-owned ski areas, arms open to their communities and backs to the world, praying for snow. Royal and Willard and Woods Valley and Snow Ridge and Titus and Maple Ski Ridge and Plattekill and two dozen others, places you have to look for to find.
And then there’s Windham, New York’s gilded outlier, like Sun Valley in its lost Idaho of unheralded local bumps. A palatial baselodge. Valet parking. Three high-speed lifts funneling skiers out of the base. A fourth up the mountain. Towering condos. Platoons of groomers combing the slopes. Members-only clubs cozied slopeside. It is the only ski area in New York State on the Ikon Pass. Peak-day walk-up lift tickets run as high as $175. Windham’s $1,499 season pass is the most expensive in the East and the eighth-most-expensive in America*. Two-and-a-half hours north of New York City, Windham delivers the closest passable version of amenity-defined resort skiing to the metro area’s 20 million people.
The gap separating Windham from its New York neighbors may be set to widen to a chasm. The resort announced today that two hospitality and resort-development partners will take majority ownership of Windham: Beall Investment Partners, best known for founder Sandy Beall’s creation of the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain; and Kemmons Wilson Hospitality Partners (KWHP), an arm of the enterprise that founded Holiday Inn. Sandy Beall will lead the new majority. The current owners - North Castle Partners, Cloverhill Group, and the McGuffog and Starker families – will remain ownership partners.
So what are the purveyors of half of a typical American interstate exit ramp going to do with a ski area? Help elevate the non-skiing parts of Windham to the level of the skiing, according to Windham President Chip Seamans.
“This signals a dramatic shift in our amenities, in our food and beverage and hospitality, and on creating year-round activities,” he said in an interview with The Storm Skiing Journal. “We've been focusing on snowmaking, lifts, grooming – really on the mountain since I’ve been here. And we'll continue to do so, but this now puts a real focus on the hospitality side.”
That means, according to a press release announcing the new ownership groups: redeveloping all food and beverage outlets, headlined by a new “Italian Alps-style concept” this year at the existing Wheelhouse mid-mountain lodge; more townhomes and other real-estate developments; and improvements to something called “golf” and other amenities.
Though neither Beall nor KWHP have experience in the ski business, Seamans describes them as “long-term investors” who are “not getting into it to turn it around” as an investment. Their aim, according to Seamans, is “less people and a better experience,” meaning “minimal liftlines” and “not crowded slopes.” Maybe not too uncrowded: Windham just signed a three-year renewal with the Ikon Pass that will begin with the 2023-24 ski season, Seamans confirmed.
Windham has spent the last decade transforming itself into not-Hunter, its similarly sized but frantic and frequently overwhelmed Epic Pass neighbor. Expensive, exclusive (-ish), a redoubt for New Yorkers who want Snowbasin – or at least Snowmass – but prefer to drive. The new owners seem poised to accelerate and solidify that change. Windham’s improbable aim is to transform itself into one of the best ski resorts in the Northeast, into what KWHP parent Kemmons Wilson Companies CEO Webb Wilson refers to, in business-cringe, as a “category leader” in the press release.
So what does this mean for Windham, for the Catskills, for New York skiing and New York skiers? Here’s a deeper look:
Below the paid subscriber jump: Catskills 101, potential Windham expansion, Windham’s future on the Ikon Pass, a chat with Pow Mow GM Kevin Mitchell, and much more.