It’s only been a few months since the owners of Afton Alps Ski and Golf inked a multimillion-dollar sale to Vail Resorts of Colorado, but already the winds of change are blowing through Penny’s Plunge. Vail plans to upgrade Afton’s snowmaking capacity and buildings, and skiers and boarders can purchase a season pass that includes Vail Resorts’ ski operations in California and Colorado. Beyond that, “Vail is looking at everything from ski school to foodservice,” says Joe Yasis, Afton Alps general manager. “Across the industry, the mantra is ‘trial and conversion’—getting more people to try skiing and become lifelong skiers,” continues Yasis. “For Vail, giving skiers access to other resorts is a marketing strategy.”

The goal is not just to bring Midwest skiers to the mountains, but to make them Vail Resorts loyalists. “Vertically integrating Vail’s customer base from the Midwest is an intelligent maneuver. There’s some risk, but I anticipate that it will bring a level of sophistication to the market, as well as increased competition to the Twin Cities’ outlying ski areas,” says Don McClure, general manager at competitor Buck Hill in Burnsville. “Vail’s strategy is part of an overall evolution in the industry, so it’s likely that we’ll see more acquisitions and alliances between local ski hills and other out-of-state resorts.”

The sale marks a sea change in the collegial local ski biz. “The potential injection of capital is exciting,” says Jim McWethy, owner of retailer Sun & Ski, in Wayzata, “but it’s going to be challenging for the family-run businesses [that] have established the local ski industry. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.”

 

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