Sugarbush Mount Ellen. Nearby Lincoln Peak is the larger of the two-mountain resort, connected by the Slide Brook Express Quad; at 11,012 feet, it is the longest detachable quad in the world. VBM photo.
by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine Win Smith, president and part owner of Sugarbush Resort in Warren, announced today in an open letter to the community, that his ownership group is selling the two-mountain resort to Alterra Mountain Group. Alterra, which is owned by investment company KSL Capital Partners and Aspen Snowmass resort in Colorado, also owns Stratton, which it acquired in 2017. Smith said between the rising cost of doing business and the increasing pressure of competition, his group decided the time was right to sell. He described it as the bittersweet sensation of walking your daughter down the aisle and trusting her with someone else. Financial terms of the proposed sale were not released.
The chief competitor of Alterra/Aspen is the larger Vail Resorts, also from Colorado. Vail, like Alterra, has been on a buying spree. It acquired Okemo (Triple Peaks) last year and Stowe Mountain Resort in 2017. Vail features the Epic ski pass and Alterra/Aspen features the Ikon pass, in which Sugarbush has participated.
Aspen spun off Alterra with KSL in 2018. Alterra properties include several of the major California resorts, like Big Bear, Mammoth and Squaw Valley, as well as Steamboat in Colorado and nearby Tremblant in Quebec.
The passes have led to vast opportunities to ski across North America and onto other continents, but have also resulted in discounted lift tickets.
Smith, whose group bought Sugarbush in 2001, added that he will stay on as president for the foreseeable future. He said it will be business as usual for the community and the employees, of which he now will become one. Smith's father, Winthrop H Smith Sr, was one of the founding partners of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc.
For a time in the 1960s, Sugarbush was nicknamed “Mascara Mountain” as celebrities, including designer Oleg Cassini, made the trip up to Vermont.
Since 2001 Sugarbush has invested $74 million in mountain improvements including seven new lifts, significant upgrades to its snowmaking system, and the revitalization of the Lincoln Peak Base area, complete with the Clay Brook Hotel and Residences and the Gate House Lodge, two skier services buildings, the Farmhouse and Schoolhouse, and new slopeside residences.
Win Smith Letter
Dear Sugarbush Community,
For me, today is a bit like walking my daughter down the aisle at her wedding. I have tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat knowing that I am about to give away someone I have raised and loved. Looking down the aisle, however, I am delighted to see someone waiting who will also love, respect, and care for her as I have done. While things will not be the same, I am excited about this next stage of our lives. And, I am comforted knowing that we are not saying goodbye!
Today Summit Ventures NE LLC is announcing that it has agreed to sell the majority of its Sugarbush assets to Alterra Mountain Company. They currently own 14 very special destinations in North America and partner with an additional 27 around the world on their Ikon Pass. The transaction is expected to close in early January 2020 subject to regulatory approvals.
I have been asked to remain as president for as long as I wish in order to facilitate a smooth transition, to maintain our commitment to our guests and to the entire Sugarbush community, and to prepare the next generation of leaders to succeed me when I decide to move on to a third career. More importantly, Alterra Mountain Company wants our entire Sugarbush team to remain in place. They are buying a place they believe is working well and do not have plans to change our mission, our values, our brand, our culture, or our team. They recognize our commitment to the Mad River Valley community and want that to continue as well.
Eighteen years ago, my family and three others purchased Sugarbush from the American Skiing Company with the intention of restoring Sugarbush to what it was when founded by the Gadd, Murphy, and Estin families in 1958. Thanks to support from our loyal guests, the community here in the Mad River Valley and the terrific team here at Sugarbush, we have turned an unprofitable and deteriorating resort into one that is profitable and respected throughout the industry. We are proud to have recently celebrated our 60th anniversary and to have continued to cultivate a spirit of lifelong adventure and camaraderie among our guests, staff, and community.
Over the years of our ownership, we have turned down several offers to sell Sugarbush and have prided ourselves on being independently owned and operated. However, recent events in the ski industry and the challenge of rising costs posed both by climate change and by doing business in Vermont have convinced me that a new owner is needed to ensure a sustainable future for Sugarbush. Until now I had not laid out a succession plan and identified who would be the best future custodian of Sugarbush. Most importantly, I needed to find someone who would care for Sugarbush as we have and our entire Sugarbush community would expect. I have found such an owner in Alterra Mountain Company.
The multi-resort season pass has changed the landscape. It will be increasingly difficult for ski areas like Sugarbush to compete alone against Vail Resorts, Alterra Mountain Company, and others like POWDR (Killington/Pico) and Boyne Resorts (Loon, NH, and Sugarloaf and Sunday River, ME). The recent acquisition of Peak Resorts by Vail was the tipping point in my decision.
Because of the ongoing challenges associated with climate change and stronger competition, the amount of capital required to remain sustainable will be far greater in the years ahead. In my opinion, Sugarbush will be better able to make these necessary investments as a member of the Alterra Mountain Company family. While there are many wonderful features about Vermont, the cost of doing business here is greater than in many other states. Being able to find efficiencies by being part of a larger organization in things such as purchasing power or our employees being part of a larger health insurance pool or having more affordable workers’ compensation options were other considerations in my decision.
Many of us have gotten to know the leadership team at Alterra Mountain Company over the past few years, and we had a very good experience partnering with their Ikon Pass last winter. Their philosophy is one of building a family of iconic destinations, each with their own unique brands, cultures, and identities that operate within unique communities. It is important to note that one of their major shareholders, Henry Crown & Company of Chicago, has owned Aspen- Snowmass for decades, and brings an important family perspective to Alterra Mountain Company. They are also focused on the long-term. Having spoken with the Crown family I am confident that their involvement will be valuable in helping to maintain the independent-minded culture of each destinations within the Alterra Mountain Company family. And, importantly all whom we have met at Alterra Mountain Company team are passionate skiers or riders like us here at Sugarbush.
For winter 19/20, all current Sugarbush Resort products and local passes will be honored as usual as our Golf and Health & Recreation Center passes. Ikon Pass access will not change with 7-day access on the Ikon Pass and 5-Day access on the Ikon Base Pass. We also remain part of the Mountain Collective. Any pass product changes will be considered after we close in early January 2020 and before spring pass sales begin.
I never thought I would become an employee again, but I am excited to do so because I believe in Alterra Mountain Company and its mission, I believe in our Sugarbush team, I love our community, and I am bullish about our future together. And, of course, my family’s commitment to the Mad River Valley will remain as strong as ever. I can assure you that I have no plans to retire to a gated golf community in Florida and still plan to ski at least 100 days this season and in many more years to come.
On Wednesday, November 20th we will have an open forum for the Sugarbush community where I and our executive team will be joined by members of the leadership team from Alterra Mountain Company to speak about our transaction, share more about Alterra Mountain Company and our future plans and answer any and all questions. This will begin at 5pm in the Gate House Lodge and all are welcome. We also plan to record the forum so that those unable to attend may view and hear our discussion later. As always, I am available by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone, or in person to answer any questions you might have.
I am looking forward to riding the first chair up the mountain on Saturday, November 23 (or possibly November 22 for a passholder appreciation day), successfully forerunning Pond Skimming in the spring, skiing at least 100 days this winter, and having a final run with many of you on Sunday, May 3. In the meantime, it is feeling like winter, we are staffing-up, our snowmakers have been hard at work this past week, and Mother Nature has already delivered some nice snow.
I remain enthusiastic about the future of Sugarbush and look forward to seeing you on the slopes very soon.
Alterra Mountain Company is a family of 14 year-round destinations, including the world’s largest heli-ski operation, offering the Ikon Pass. The company owns and operates a range of recreation, hospitality, real estate development, food and beverage, retail and service businesses. Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, with destinations across the continent, Alterra Mountain Company is rooted in the spirit of the mountains and united by a passion for outdoor adventure. Alterra Mountain Company’s family of diverse playgrounds spans six U.S. states and three Canadian provinces: Steamboat and Winter Park Resort in Colorado; Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain and Big Bear Mountain Resort in California; Stratton in Vermont; Snowshoe in West Virginia; Tremblant in Quebec, Blue Mountain in Ontario; Crystal Mountain in Washington; Deer Valley Resort and Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah; and CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures in British Columbia. Also included in the portfolio is Alpine Aerotech, a worldwide helicopter support and maintenance service center in British Columbia, Canada. Alterra Mountain Company honors each destination’s unique character and authenticity and celebrates the legendary adventures and enduring memories they bring to everyone. For more information, visit www.alterramtnco.com.