Vail Resorts to Take Majority Ownership in Crans-Montana, Its Second Swiss Ski Area
Epic Pass access will begin with the 2024-25 ski season
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By now, the pattern should be fairly clear: Vail doesn’t like one-offs. That’s how it starts, but that’s never how it ends. When the company broke out of Colorado with the 2002 purchase of Heavenly, it followed with two more Tahoe resorts – Northstar in 2010 and Kirkwood in 2012. Vail followed the 2013 Canyons acquisition with the 2014 takeover of neighboring Park City (the two soon became a combined megaresort). Vail bought Perisher, Australia, in 2015, and added Falls Creek and Hotham in 2019. Then Vermont: Stowe in 2017, Okemo in 2018, Mount Snow and the rest of Peak Resorts in 2019.
So we should’ve known, when Vail scooped up a majority stake in Switzerland’s Andermatt-Sedrun last March, that they’d keep shopping in the neighborhood. No one knew exactly where the company would look next, and I couldn’t offer much more than to gesture vaguely in the direction of the continent. There are, according to skiresortinfo.com, 358 active ski areas in Switzerland (estimates vary widely – Statista puts the number at 181). This in a nation that is just a touch larger than Maryland (which has one ski area). Trying to guess what Vail would buy next would be like looking in the window of a Wal-Mart and guessing which of the 14,000 grocery products Mr. Franklin would scoop into his shopping cart next.
But yesterday Vail gave us the answer: the company plans to take an 84 percent ownership stake in Crans-Montana, a prototypical Swiss monster with a cartoonish 4,593-foot vertical drop and a ridiculous lift fleet that includes at least five gondolas and a funitel. Rather than providing a skiable-acreage total, Vail tells us that Crans-Montana offers 140 kilometers of trails, which is about as useful as telling me the names of all the local mountain goats. Anyway, it’s big but not huge. Think Breck, but not Whistler. Here’s the trailmap:
The ski area cost around $136 million, for those of you who care about that sort of thing. That’s just a touch more than the estimated cost of a single-day walk-up lift ticket once Vail takes ownership in 2024. No matter: the mountain will likely join the Epic Pass as an unlimited partner, as Andermatt-Sedrun did last winter, for the 2024-25 ski season (there will be no Epic Pass access for 2023-24, regardless of when Vail closes on the place). Vail plans to retain “the vast majority of employees,” and operations “will continue in the ordinary course of business,” which sounds like a phrase written by a Swiss AI bot.
With the acquisition of Crans-Montana, Vail Resorts will own and/or operate 42 ski areas in four countries on three continents. Here’s the current roster:
Once Epic Pass access kicks in next year, Crans-Montana will be one of four Swiss ski resorts on the pass, and one of seven in Europe (the chart below lumps Disentis in with neighboring Andermatt-Sedrun, and does not yet include Crans-Montana, since Epic Pass access is TBD):
Here’s where they sit in relation to one another:
Those are not as close as they look. While Crans-Montana sits approximately 19 miles from Les 3 Vallees, a four-hour drive separates the two.
While the Crans-Montana acquisition does not transform Vail Resorts into a major operator in Europe, it does confirm that the Andermatt pickup was not a one-off, and signals that more density on the continent is likely incoming. And while it is unlikely that Vail could ever replicate its U.S. hegemony on a continent with an estimated 4,000 ski areas, the company could build a vast and dense enough network to establish an Epic Pass offering as big as – or larger than – its North American empire. In a decade, the company could own two or three resorts in every major European ski region, just as it does now in the United States.
So what’s next? And what does the purchase of a second Swiss resort mean for Vail and for Epic Pass holders, both in the U.S. and in Europe? Will Vail’s whole deal even work in the culturally distinct nations of Europe, with their affordable lift tickets and centuries-old ski communities and general suspicion of U.S. America’s good intentions? Let’s explore:
Below the paid subscriber jump: will Europeans ever care about the Epic Pass? Big Truck Bro gets steams about mass transit, maybe we’ve got the wrong Montana, and more.