The demise of American Skiing Co. and sale of its New England properties has resulted in reinvestment and rejuvenation at some of the region's premier resorts.
Then over the course of a few months in 2007, ASC sold Killington/Pico to POWDR Corp. for $85 million; Mount Snow and Attitash to Peak Resorts for $73.5 million; and Sugarloaf and Sunday River to Boyne for $77 million in cash and assumption of $2 million in debt, with Boyne immediately reselling the two resorts to CNL Income Properties Inc., which leased them back to Boyne as operator.
Since the sales, the new owners and operators have invested more than $50 million in lifts, snowmaking, and urgently needed facilities maintenance.
It breaks down roughly this way: Peak Resorts has put about $12 million into Mount Snow and Attitash, much of it into snowmaking; Boyne/CNL has invested more than $25 million into Sugarloaf and Sunday River, mainly for snowmaking and the Chondola; and POWDR has invested about $14 million in capital investment in Killington and Pico, much of it for snowmaking and the Skye Peak Express.
Tim Boyd, president of Peak Resorts, said, "ASC was at the end of the line for a lot of reasons. Continued ownership by them would have only been to the detriment of the resorts. Financially there was nowhere else for them to go."
Under Peak's ownership Mount Snow and Attitash have refocused on basics.
"Obviously we've taken the resorts in a different direction. Our emphasis has always been more operational rather than real estate driven. We've worked on infrastructure, snowmaking, things we think are important to put out a quality product. Our goal is a quality product, not trying to sell condos. From the skiers' perspective, that's a positive thing," he said.
Chris Nyberg, President and GM of Killington/Pico, said ASC had started out with a program of keeping Killington up to date.
"I had to right-size the business and change the model to fit our needs to get enough money to the bottom line to reinvest in the resort. That strategy is evidenced by what we did this summer when we built the high-speed detachable lift, the first new lift in 10 years here. Slowly but surely we'll continue to invest in the mountain. We'll continue to upgrade our snowmaking system which is huge but old," Nyberg said.
Another impact of the breakup of ASC has been a rise of season pass prices across New England to market levels. New England operators breathed a collective sigh of relief over the end of ASC's bargain basement pricing since, to compete, passes at many resorts were held at levels deemed too low.
ASC's regional passes were a volume-based strategy, Nyberg said.
"What we did with our pass structure here at Killington for almost two years now, we just basically simplified the pass product and took it to market level. We're right in line with Sugarbush and Okemo and the rest of the guys north and south of us. It was a substantial increase in price for guests used to paying for an All for One or the Eastern Pass, but there was very little pushback. People got it, they figured it out," Nyberg said.
Stephen Kircher, President of Boyne Resorts' Eastern Operations, said ASC resorts were on hold for many years.
"There's a renewed focus on product, and one of the benefits of ASC not having reinvested in awhile, they missed a big move in snowmaking technology. With energy costs there's been a big push to improve snowmaking and make it more efficient. That's helped the product and the bottom line. That's the epitome of good greening: improve the product, protect the environment and save money all at the same time," Kircher said.