Ski Inc. 2020: Alterra Counters Vail Resorts; Mega-Passes Transform the Landscape; The Industry Responds and Flourishes. for Skiing? by Chris Diamond
“The ski world has been turned upside down.”
Chris Diamond’s first book, Ski Inc., had just hit bookshelves in December 2016 when shock waves reverberated through the ski resort landscape. In early 2017, the Alterra Mountain Company emerged to challenge Vail Resorts’ supremacy, eventually buying 15 resorts, partnering with another 25-plus, and launching the Ikon Pass to compete with the Epic Pass. The story behind Alterra’s rise is remarkable, as is Vail Resorts’ counter-offensive in the form of its own buying spree, which most recently included the acquisition of the 17 ski areas of Peak Resorts.
Through countless interviews, hundreds of sources, and deep firsthand experience, Diamond dissects this unprecedented upheaval, in which the business has been radically, disruptively, and yet positively transformed. “Ski Inc. 2020 accomplished in a matter of hours what I’d failed to do on my own in a decade: make sense of present-day resort headlines in the context of how we got here in the first place,” says Gregg Blanchard, the senior vice president of Strategy for Inntopia.
When Diamond started this Ski Inc. 2020 sequel, he thought it would be primarily the story of how these “Big Two” resort companies suddenly came to control more than half of the U.S. ski resort business through their mega-passes, and what it means for skiers and snowboarders. But as he dug deeper, he discovered dynamic trajectories among the next three largest ski conglomerates (Boyne Resorts, POWDR and Peak Resorts, now part of Vail), plus ingenuity and innovation at a host of small- and medium-sized resorts, dozens of which are chronicled in the book. Besides the widespread success of value season passes, which trade early commitment for dramatically reduced pricing, resorts large and small have polished their operations. The success starts with passionate leadership and extends to every line item. Resorts now avoid risky real-estate projects; vigorously market to and build relationships with digitally savvy customers; sharpen margins across all departments; and improve the product in every way. For an industry that historically suffered through peaks and valleys with the weather and economy, the result today is an impressive bottom-line consistency that has drawn investor interest worldwide.
There are daunting hurdles ahead, with climate change and sluggish participation trends at the top of the disrupter list, but the future is arguably brighter than ever. With season passes at circa-1970s prices, while providing access to dozens of resorts rather than just one, there’s never been a better time to be a skier or snowboarder. This book is an eye-opener, a deep, colorful dive beneath the headlines, for any skier or rider who wants to understand today’s landscape. And it’s a must-read for anyone who works–or wants to work–in the ski industry.
“Chris Diamond takes the reader to a higher level of understanding on the state of the ski-resort industry than anyone has ever done,” says Michael Berry, who served as the president of the National Ski Areas Association for 25 years. “Key executives opened up to Chris in a way that is unique to this book; their candor and Chris’s astute observations combine to make a compelling read. If you love winter, love mountains, and love to slide on snow, this book is a must-read.”