Mountain News 

Battle in the High Sierras

TRUCKEE, Calif. - Last week's announcement of a ski-area takeover at Lake Tahoe really can be seen as competition between two recreational empires based in metropolitan Denver-Boulder.

The owners of Squaw Valley are taking over operation of nearby Alpine Meadows. Although not directly connected, the two resorts collectively will have 6,000 acres. The two resorts are just 10 minutes apart, with just one privately owned acreage separating them.

The deal had been rumored for months and talked about for years.

Squaw Valley was purchased last year by KSL Capital Partners, which is led by several former executives of Vail Resorts, among them Mike Shannon, who directed operations at Vail and Beaver Creek in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Eric Resnick, who worked at the same company, but a decade later. KSL is now based in Denver.

Vail Resorts also has a strong California presence, with ownership of Heavenly and Northstar-at-Tahoe. Several years ago it moved its corporate headquarters from the Vail area to a suburb of Boulder.

Owning multiple ski areas allows companies to leverage their assets in marketing and in season passes. Vail Resorts has various iterations of its Epic Pass, including one that costs $649 and is good at its two California resorts, its four Colorado Resorts, plus Arapahoe Basin. KSL, with its new purchase, is offering a $799 pass good at both of its California resorts.

At stake are not just the 7.5 million people in the San Francisco metropolitan area, but also the potential to peel away domestic - and perhaps international - skiers from other destination resorts, including those in Colorado, Utah and probably British Columbia.

Ralf Garrison, who has been tracking ski tourism for 30-plus years from his headquarters in Denver, used the metaphor of a magnet in an interview with the Sacramento Bee .

"Tahoe's challenge is to build a big enough magnet," he said. "It needs to attract guests who come farther and stay longer."

Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960, but until the last decade not all that much had changed. Colorado investors, however, have been remaking the region. And the Sacramento Bee correctly notices that it's not just about skiing any more. "It's more about developing full-service resorts with shopping, restaurants, high-end lodging and other amenities."

The Bee also portrays the merger of Squaw and Alpine as enhancing Lake Tahoe's possible bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Colorado is also considering whether to make a run at the same target.

Some seemed to think the Bee's coverage was a little hyper, making out the merger to be "the biggest thing to hit the regional economy since the 1960 Olympics," as one public official in Truckee, Calif. That public official said he is taking a more measured wait-and-see attitude.

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