NPR Marketplace: Colorado corporations buy Tahoe ski resorts


Companies from Colorado bring jobs and capital to Lake Tahoe’s ski industry, but also higher prices and local dissent.


Kai Ryssdal: Given the weather this past winter — that’d be unexpectedly warm — this hasn’t been a great year for ski resorts. Not a whole lot of snow. But it’s been a really good year for the ski business. Colorado companies bought two big resorts in California, which has locals complaining about a Vail invasion.

Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler takes us to Lake Tahoe for a little apres ski economics.

Northstar Radio: Welcome to Northstar, Calif., resort’s information radio system.

The Northstar ski resort has its own dedicated radio broadcast.

Northstar Radio: Shopping and dining is located just across from the village on Northstar.

The resort provides the little extras, like complimentary carts, so skiers don’t have to carry all that cumbersome gear.

Aaron Reynolds: It’s a really great idea. I wish more places did that.

Should more resorts copy Northstar? Many skiers are nervous that consolidation will lead to cookie-cutter ski resorts. Vail Resorts, based in Colorado, now owns three ski operations in the Tahoe area — Northstar, Heavenly, and last month it bought Kirkwood for $18 million. I asked Vail Co-President Blaise Carrig if Kirkwood will get a glitzy makeover.

Blaise Carrig: Kirkwood is much different than Northstar. And we’re going to work hard to preserve and protect that. Even though we are a large company with multiple resorts, it’s not like a fast-food chain, where each one of them should be the same.

There are signs of creeping uniformity. Popular retail chains seem to proliferate at the big resorts. Consider where I met Jamie Schectman.

Jamie Schectman: We’re at the world’s first ski-in, ski-out Starbucks, mid-slope here at 8,200 feet.

Schectman is co-founder of the Mountain Rider Alliance, a skier’s group dedicated to making the sport affordable and sustainable. We met at the Squaw Valley ski resort, which is owned by another Colorado company — KSL Capital Partners. This season, Squaw bought the neighboring resort, Alpine Meadows. Schectman says the lack of competition has made lift tickets more expensive.

Schectman: Prior to the merger, Alpine Meadows was $73. Now you’re forced to pay $92. Child’s tickets went from $10 to $29.

But Squaw Valley has also cut some prices. For example, Squaw season passes have gotten less expensive in recent years. That’s good for consumers, but challenging for the smaller ski resorts trying to compete.

John Monson handles marketing for Sugar Bowl, another small resort in the Tahoe region. It charges the same price as Squaw for a season pass.

John Monson: Some people point-blank have said, ‘You know, how can you charge more than, say, the neighboring resort when you’re not as big?’ Well, we’re not going high volume. You know, smaller lift lines and more elbow room out on the mountain.

In fact, Monson is taking advantage of the local backlash against Colorado corporations. Sugar Bowl has taken out ads in local magazines that read:

Monson: California owned and operated since 1939.

The Colorado companies could argue that’s the problem with Tahoe — it’s stuck in the past. Andy Wirth is president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings.

Andy Wirth: Lake Tahoe really has never been considered seriously by most North America skiers as a serious destination. The resort infrastructure, the transportation infrastructure has been 20 years behind Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

John Monson at Sugar Bowl admits consolidation can benefit all Tahoe ski resorts.

Monson: These acquisitions have brought with them an unprecedented level of capital improvement dollars. I mean, we’re talking tens of millions of dollars.

Squaw Valley is investing $50 million in improvements. Squaw CEO Andy Wirth says that money provides local construction jobs.

Wirth: Many of the contractors and sub-contractors that were either unemployed or underemployed, we’re now providing them opportunity.

Wirth wants to bring the 2022 Olympics to Tahoe. His counterpart at Vail is of two minds. He’d be delighted to see the games come to California, but just as happy if the Olympics end up in Colorado.

I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

  • Stop Squaw Valley Over Development

    It starts with the Village plan. Wirth and his peeps will be out of here and leave us with an financially insolvent mess, just like East West has done in Truckee. BTW, East West is a development partner with KSL Capital Partners.
    BEWARE of the B.S. from fork tongued Wirth. He’s pure evil.
    Please join, get involved if you want to stop this wasteful and environmentally harmful proposal.
    Contact our representatives and voice our concerns.

    The link to much info is here.


  • Nick

    Evolve or dissolve.

    How much has Mammoth changed since it was bought Intrawest? Not really all that much besides for the Village and lift tickets going up. I like the Village and I don’t mind the slightly higher lift ticket prices. It keeps more of the riff raff out.

    • What about 1960?

      Starwood bought Mammoth in 2005 and took over McCoy’s stake. I don’t think Interwest owns anything except the Village. Mammoth is terrific and I love the changes that were made there. The Town of Mammoth Lakes just effed up big time on an airport approval and just lost a multi-million dollar lawsuit over it. The Town of Mammoth Lakes is considering filing for bankruptcy.

  • What about 1960?

    I love NPR and Marketplace. Great piece by them, for sure.
    After reading some of these posts, what if the 1960 Olympics never happened because people at that time felt the same way many of you do and they crushed Alex’s Olympic bid? Squaw Valley would never have become what it is if that happened. Squaw Valley’s Olympic heritage had a lot to do with it’s exposure, development, and drew many great skiers and their families to Squaw. Squaw does need a percentage of destination visitors to sustain the hotels, local businesses in Truckee & Tahoe City and the Village businesses. Out of town tourists are part of the mix. Yes, the Bay, Sac, Reno and locals are a large part too, but a resort still needs tourists from other states and other countries. So does the waiteress at the restaurant in Tahoe City, Truckee and Reno. Just ask them…

    • Andrew

      There are plenty of people as it is. The only reason more tourists would be needed is putting another $50M into the resort – most of which will be in developing the village.

    • Douchee Magoo

      It’s a viscious cycle, the more people come, the more hotels and restaurants they build. The more they build, the more tourists they need. When is it enough?

    • Biggus D

      Hello, 1960 was 52 years ago… if you can even remember it you are OLD. Things were different then, way way way less media exposure than would occur today. Tahoe needed the exposure and growth then, not so much now. There are how many resorts surrounding Tahoe? I can get to 10 without counting Boreal or Diamond Peak. To say skiers outside of Cali don’t know Tahoe is dumb. Just go spend a few days at Heavenly, the crowd is international.
      Also, here’s a little fact… in the 1930s America built the San Francisco Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge in 3.5 and 4.5 years respectively. The New Bay Bridge (only half as long as the original) has taken over 15 years so far, still not done. My point? Back then you could just build something, rather quickly if you had the money. Nowadays, even with all our computers, super smart engineers, bad ass construction equipment, and skilled labor force, the bureaucratic, regulatory and environmental hurdles that any large project needs to clear make the process so inefficient it takes the process forever and costs huge $$$. If you try to build the required olympic infrastructure now, what do you think the premium will be to Keep Tahoe Blue? Do you really think the environmental freaks will let them widen 89 without a fight?
      So comparing 1960 to 2012 is not a relevant argument.

    • your ball sack is my hacky sack

      The whole place has turned into such a clusterfuck, half the time its not even worth it to go up. Glad I got my powder freak on all through the 90s and 00s, before all you gaper skiers discovered off piste.

  • HaytinHater

    Try jackson you fart smelling smug huffin wannabee cali “skiers”. Lmao. What a waste of life

  • Andrew

    Good piece by NPR Marketplace. Not sure you should really copy the entire transcript from them and put it on this site. Just post some highlights and a link.

  • cc

    I think AW’s comment: “Lake Tahoe really has never been considered seriously by most North America skiers as a serious destination. The resort infrastructure, the transportation infrastructure has been 20 years behind Colorado, Utah and Wyoming,” really shows his lack of understanding about Tahoe. Who in the US doesn’t think about Tahoe as a serious destination? What does that mean? Sure we need better transpo and better lift placement, but come on. Wrong tack, and on Marketplace no-less. It’s been a serious destination ever since Mark Twain started writing about it. I mean that is just a clueless statement. If this is his/their mindset regarding opportunity, well …

    • emcee

      Outside of california, casual skiers can only name a a resort or two by name: “Oh, heavenly’s there, right?”

      Outside of the west coast, east of the mississippi, you get that famous line: “skiing, in california?”

    • Geriatic S Gurl

      We (state of California) have more PEOPLE than any other state in the union. 37 million out of 311 million, or one in eleven, live here. We therefore likely have more SKIERS than any other state in the union, certainly more than the dinky, dinky, dinkydoo “Why oh ming” with total population of just over half a million.

      Utah is ranked #34 in population with a paltry 2.8 million. Colorado is #22 with only 5 million people. The other thing these 3 states have in common, besides nobody actually wants to live there, is that they have fairly severe climates (windy, drought prone, subzero), limited job opportunities (growth only in certain biz) and no real water sports alternatives for the summer, other than a few weeks between frosts for fly- fishing. We are an ocean coastline state and have a giant, varied economy compared to those flyover states which are nothing without their mining or federal contractors dollars.

      So, it is not like we do not have skiers, or lack so many skiers we must import them from other states or countries- we have so many resorts here, we have competition in a soft economy for capturing what discretionary entertainment income is available, or encouraging more people to take up the sport.

      So, to claim “most North American skiers” are from The Really Important Parts of the Country Somewhere Else – is beyond ludicrous, it is insulting. If you aren’t getting your easiest access customers to your facilities, something else is wrong. There wasn’t any need to upgrade your facilities for decades, if they were pulling in the bountiful supply of state of CA skiers anyway.

      Rather, these continued little soundbytes from Wirth are to appeal to his Wall Street hedge fund type real estate speculator- investors. Remember his goal is Condos out the whazoo. Remember the same crowd who brought us the Great Housing Bubble and Real Estate Crash ? They’re baaaaaaack.

  • Anonymous

    The big corps can Coloradify and homogenize the village experience all they want, but the terrain and snowpack will always be Tahoe (sorry Colorado, our snowpack is waaaaaay better than your “champagne powder”). Tourists will inflate prices, clog roads, and drive us crazy, but they will also spend their money, allowing Tahoe to be a fun place to live, with restaurants, bars, shops, and a generally more pleasurable existence than some backwoods freeway rest stop. No matter what happens, the locals will continue to do what they do: sacrifice material goods for a lifestyle that actually involves some living.

  • Daaaave

    This article nailed it. Wirth is an idiot for trying to incorporate what funk Tahoe has left. FIGHT THE MAN!

  • Agent P

    Here’s the deal dimwit Andy. Tahoe has never had to act like a destination area. The (3) states mentioned do not have the population base to suport the number of resorts they have. Wyoming and Utah can’t support the resors they have and in the reorts are spread out and Denver the popultion hub is a long drive to vail aspen you name it. They have no choice but to market themselves as destinations.The tahoe resorts are allready crowded as there is the Bay Area at 7 million then throw in Sacramento, reno, and locals and there are plenty of skiers. Only 3 hours away.

  • Hubie

    Gotta agree, KEEP OLYPICS OUT!! Its funny how the majority of people living here live here because its NOT Colorado or UTAH. We can move there, but don’t like the resort glitz, so choose to live here. Lets keep tahoe the way it is and stay another 20 years behind, as they said.

    • anonymous

      give me a break. CA has over 25 million more people than colorado. vail resorts are only a few of what we got. CA already has held the olympics and colorado never has. summit county isn’t exactly perfect. alot of it is run down and shitty. also we have places like CB and silverton. nuff said.

  • NO to the Olympic Bid

    Could not agree more.

    10 years of construction for two weeks of madness followed by an infrastructure that can not be supported.

    All of this so Mr. Wirthless and this cronies can make a buck before moving back to CO.

    Total Bull Shit.

  • Anti-Olympian

    We need to do everything we can do to keep the Olympics out of Tahoe… go ahead take them to Colorado. Their economy can probably handle the impact, but little ol Tahoe will collapse after that big of an economical surge in to the community.
    Look at this video of some protesters in Vancouver after they had the Olympics up there.

    • warren

      Colorado turned down the olympics when awarded them in 76, they should do it again but I think they are drooling over the exposure

  • Squaw skier

    Thanks for posting this. Tahoe ski part starts at 16:30 in the audio stream if you want to fast forward.

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