Alterra to Acquire Sugarbush Resort

sugarbush19-20

Vermont’s Sugarbush will join the Alterra Mountain Company family of resorts, bringing the two year-old group to 15 mountains.  Sugarbush encompasses Lincoln Peak and Mt. Ellen, which are connected by a two mile long detachable quad called the Slide Brook Express.  The resort operates a combined fleet of 13 chairlifts from both Doppelmayr and Poma.  “Sugarbush Resort is a premier East Coast mountain destination and we are excited to expand the Alterra Mountain Company family in the Northeast, with Sugarbush joining Stratton in Vermont,” said Rusty Gregory, Chief Executive Officer of Alterra. “Sugarbush has been a partner on the Ikon Pass since its inception and we look forward to the opportunities ahead.”

Win Smith, managing partner of the current ownership group, will stay on and become President and Chief Operating Officer of Sugarbush under Alterra.  “Having been a family-owned resort for nearly two decades, we were keen to find the right next owner of Sugarbush Resort,” said Smith.  “We are delighted that Sugarbush will join the Alterra Mountain Company family, knowing that Alterra Mountain Company will continue to maintain our culture, values and commitment to our community, while bringing additional capital and other resources to make Sugarbush even better in the years ahead.”  Since being acquired from American Skiing Company in 2001, Sugarbush has invested $74 million in mountain improvements including seven new lifts, significant upgrades to snowmaking, and the revitalization of the Lincoln Peak Base area.

Ikon Pass access to Sugarbush will remain limited to five or seven days for the 2019-20 season.  It is likely to become unlimited for 2020-21 like at most other Alterra-owned resorts.  Mountain Collective access will remain unchanged for this season.  The transaction is expected to close in the fist quarter of 2020.

47 thoughts on “Alterra to Acquire Sugarbush Resort

  1. Dexter November 13, 2019 / 12:51 pm

    Smart move. Where does this leave Jay?

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    • Peter D. November 13, 2019 / 1:03 pm

      Boyne should buy it

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      • Max Hart November 13, 2019 / 1:13 pm

        they really should

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    • Che Guevara November 13, 2019 / 3:26 pm

      How much of Jay’s business comes from Montreal vs the states? Maybe it would make sense for a conglomerate that wants Montreal exposure with an eye to drive some Montreal skiers to the rest of their network. This would make everyone eligible except Alterra and RCR which already have resorts near Montreal.

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      • Thomas Jett November 13, 2019 / 7:00 pm

        I’d doubt that many people from Quebec come to Vermont. There’s a lot of mountains a lot bigger than Sugarbush a lot closer to Montreal that provide services in French.

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        • Andy November 13, 2019 / 7:26 pm

          A huge chunk of Jay Peak’s ski count comes from both Ontario and Quebec. Has been that way for 40 years

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        • Mike B November 14, 2019 / 1:20 am

          Andy is correct. Perhaps there was confusion over which mountain was being discussed re: Montreal, but there is no doubt that Canadians are a massive component of the Jay customer base. I actually think Alterra would make sense for Jay, as it allows them to build scale and dominate the important Montreal market in combination with Tremblant. But it would also increase Alterra’s relevance for the Boston market, something that’s sorely needed now with Vail having bought Peak.

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    • Carleton Gebhardt November 13, 2019 / 3:38 pm

      I’m not sure they need it now. Jay’s asking price is probably too high. It has a lot of real estate and non- skiing infrastructure that a ski operator might not want to deal with. I’m not surprised by this Sugarbush move but expected it a couple years from now.

      I do think Alterra needs one more resort in NH on the Ikon. Maybe a Bretton Woods or Waterville Valley. If not an acquisition, then maybe a partner.

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      • skitheeast November 13, 2019 / 7:13 pm

        Jay is on the auction block, it is not like they can refuse the highest bid, and it will likely be significantly below the amount the investors want. The five finalists for Jay were reported to be Alterra, AWH Partners (who own resorts at Stowe and Lake Placid), Sculptor Capital Management (formerly Och-Ziff, former owners of seven resorts sold to Boyne), Pacific Group (another real estate group), and FoSun (a Chinese investment company).

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      • David November 14, 2019 / 11:08 am

        Yeah somebody was saying Jay would go for $100mil+ which is a little nuts. Was getting in a discussion over how Jay would be worth more than Crystal Mt and Stevens Pass in WA combined.

        Seems asking price far too high for now, I bet they get grabbed up when this changes in 5-10 years.

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  2. Donald Reif November 13, 2019 / 12:58 pm

    Hopefully Alterra will run Slide Brook on a more regular basis than the current owners.

    Liked by 3 people

    • BeyondtheLodge November 13, 2019 / 4:16 pm

      that would be nice, but i think it is more due to regulations on evacs

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      • Carleton November 13, 2019 / 4:26 pm

        Yes, I remember hearing that the temp needs to be above a certain temperature (15deg?) and there needs to be enough snow underneath for evacuations. I’m wondering if this lift could be turned into a bubble chair, or gondola?

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        • Mike B November 14, 2019 / 1:22 am

          That lift is a bit of a white elephant as it is. No way they dump $10M into a replacement IMO. So many better uses for that capital in terms of snowmaking upgrades and potential terrain expansion per their NFS Forest Mgmt Plan.

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  3. Thomas Jett November 13, 2019 / 1:18 pm

    Do we think that this is in response to Vail’s acquisition of Peak Resorts?

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    • skitheeast November 13, 2019 / 9:37 pm

      “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 and Boyne Resorts. The recent acquisition of Peak Resorts by Vail was the tipping point in my decision.” -Win

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  4. Teddy's Lift World November 13, 2019 / 1:40 pm

    As a Sugarbush skier, this news is quite unfortunate. For a long time they’ve had the motto “proudly independent”. They have always shied away from the larger corporations. I really hope they don’t milk all the money they can out of Sugarbush and not make investments due to there not being a significant return on those investments. Worse yet ruin the terrain and vibe by adding more snowmaking and grooming.

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    • skitheeast November 13, 2019 / 3:19 pm

      Unlike Vail, Alterra does not view certain resorts as feeders and others as destinations. This can be seen by its investments at Stratton, Snowshoe, Blue Mountain, and Tremblant, all resorts that would be deemed feeders at Vail. Alterra likes to leave existing management in place and have individual mountains decide where to invest capital rather than have their headquarters be in charge.

      As for more snowmaking and grooming: snowmaking is increasing across the industry (both at independent and conglomerate mountains) in an effort to increase consistency throughout the season year after year. The good news is that I am sure Heaven’s Gate will be replaced with a detachable within the next few years with new investment. My personal preference is for the bottom terminal to be lowered next to Castlerock’s bottom terminal so it has easier access from Castlerock and Slide Brook.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Teddy's Lift World November 13, 2019 / 4:05 pm

        While a Heaven’s Gate replacement would be nice, I don’t think that it’s a huge priority for them right now. The main priority is to build the new hotel and mid mountain dining at Lincoln Peak. I really hope they don’t get rid of places like Walt’s at Mt. Ellen and the Wunderbar.

        About the Heaven’s Gate replacement, it will most likely follow the Ripcord trail like it does now. If you have skied at Sugarbush, you would know how small the area is where the drive for Castlerock is. Heaven’s Gate is in a good location that allows upper mountain terrain to be lapped easily. Also, in order to get from Slide Brook to Castlerock, you have to travel uphill. The Castlerock Connection trail is uphill from North Lynx. It is also very sketchy. Last time I skied it there was a bare patch that I had to take my skis off for. The most likely replacement for Heaven’s Gate would be a Doppelmayr UNI-G detachable quad with a low capacity and with a return where the gondola summit building used to stand.

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        • BeyondtheLodge November 13, 2019 / 4:18 pm

          They are keeping management in place, so I believe the resort will probably still go in the direction Win wants

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        • Mike B November 14, 2019 / 1:30 am

          Agree with this. Changing the Heaven’s Gate lift alignment like that makes no sense – just adds a hundred vertical feet of flat runout and will result in pinball down lower Downspout.

          As for a Heaven’s Gate replacement, I’d be shocked if they put in a detatchable lift. The wind at the top can be fiercmbbe, so you want a fixed grip lift for reliability, to say nothing of the lower capital and operating costs. And agree that whatever the lift, they are unlikely to increase capacity beyond the current 1800 pph. There are ultimately only 3 ways down from the top for the vast majority of skiers, so they don’t want to put a lot more people up there. I could see them maybe making a concession to modern preferences by putting in a carpet to run it fast and cut the ride down by a minute or two, but that’s about as high tech as I think they’ll go.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Teddy's Lift World November 14, 2019 / 4:42 am

          I’m pretty sure that they would keep Heaven’s Gate as a triple rather than replace it with a quad. It has no capacity or reliability issues. The wind really isn’t an issue, in fact often Super Bravo goes on wind hold but not Heaven’s Gate. I also think there’s a misconception about detachables in the wind. They have sensors that will slow or even stop the lift if the wind speed is too high. A detachable would suit that situation well.

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      • Donald Reif November 13, 2019 / 4:25 pm

        Alterra at the very least should do a little stepping in and capital reinvestment to do things like more regular operation of Slide Brook.

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      • Thomas Jett November 13, 2019 / 7:01 pm

        I don’t think that Tremblant would be deemed a feeder by Vail; it’s one of the most visited resorts in the East. Stratton, too, is immensely popular.

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        • skitheeast November 13, 2019 / 7:22 pm

          While Vail dropped the official “feeder” terminology, neither Stowe or Okemo are classified as “destination” mountains. That title is reserved for the Colorado and Tahoe resorts plus Park City and Whistler. The basic premise is that unless a significant number of people are actively flying out to a resort, it is not deemed a destination.

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        • Somebody November 14, 2019 / 11:32 am

          Intrawest treated Stratton as a feeder (No large on-mountain investments for 17 years), and I honestly have no reason to think vail would have been different.

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      • Mike B November 14, 2019 / 1:36 am

        This whole premise is flawed. What is the basis for the belief that Vail doesn’t invest in its “feeder hills?”

        http://news.vailresorts.com/corporate/wilmot-brand-logo-construction.htm

        Anyway, Sugarbush has been growing very nicely the last few years, has a good amount of developable real estate at the base, has some important investments needed on the snowmaking and lift side, and significant opportunity in terms of terrain expansion. I don’t think Alterra would choke off the flow of investment dollars that have made this growth possible.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Donald Reif November 13, 2019 / 6:42 pm

    I doubt the snow excuse is true. There are photos from 2004 of the lift running with no snow underneath south-facing slopes underneath the lift. It’s more likely that’s just an excuse they make to hide their real reason, which is “save money.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Teddy's Lift World November 13, 2019 / 7:34 pm

      The Vermont state requirements changed. Money is not an issue. It costs just as much as any other lift to operate. They just need the snow and it to be above 5 degrees.

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    • Sam Altavilla November 14, 2019 / 5:28 am

      The new laws require there to be enough snow to run rescue operations with a snowmobile.

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      • Bill Smith November 14, 2019 / 10:42 pm

        Please cite the law. Everything about Slidebrook ops from Sugarbush’s mouth is PR.

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    • Nahms November 14, 2019 / 5:45 am

      This chair is essentially useless, except for the novelty of taking a chair between the two mountains. I was a passholder there for a season with 50+ days on Sugarbush and Mt Ellen, and I never rode Slide Brook once. If I started my day at Sugarbush and felt like going to Mt Ellen, I got in my car and drove there. The chair serves no terrain either. There is no need to run it any more than on the weekends.

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      • Teddy's Lift World November 14, 2019 / 5:58 am

        I strongly disagree with you. I am also a season pass holder and I ride it almost every day it is open. It’s nice to be able to ski a few early runs at Lincoln, hop on slide brook, do a few runs, and have lunch at one of the two amazing places to eat (Walt’s and GML). Then you can do some more runs at Ellen and head back. It’s so seamless to transition between mountains which is why I love Slide Brook so much. Maybe try riding it and you’ll enjoy it more?? Each mountain has its unique terrain so it’s so nice for me to be able to transition between mountains throughout the day. It’s such a hassle to drive or take the bus.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Somebody November 14, 2019 / 11:33 am

      It’s just like when the Stratton gondola goes on wind hold despite it not being windy..

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      • John November 18, 2019 / 10:08 am

        In my experience it takes much less wind than you’d think to close a lift like that. Those big cabins are heavy, yes, but once they get swinging bad things happen. I’d chalk your impression up to conservative maintenance personnel rather than anything else.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Mike B November 15, 2019 / 1:18 am

      I don’t know about any laws addressing this, but what Sugarbush has consistently said is that they need a sufficient snow surface on the access/egress trail to run a snowmobile over. That trail is at the bottom of the last picture, out of view, and is normally more consistently covered with snow due to skier compaction – it’s the only way out from the Lincoln Peak side.

      So be skeptical all you want, but the facts aren’t in evidence with these photos.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Peter Landsman November 18, 2019 / 7:22 am

        There seems to be some misinformation re: Slide Brook in this thread so I asked Win about it. Here’s what he said: “Once Mount Ellen opens in December we schedule it to run every day until ME closes at the end of March. Our lift mechanics have to be able to get to the 40 towers quickly and safely on snow mobiles. They access them over a number of work roads in Slidebrook and it requires sufficient snow depth for that to happen. Also in the unlikely event of a lift evacuation we need to get patrol in there quickly as well and guests out safely. Another reason the lift might not run is wind. As you know there are several places where it is very exposed to the elements which makes it quite vulnerable to wind from different directions. Finally, for safety we do not run it when the temps are below 5 degrees.”

        Liked by 2 people

        • Teddy's Lift World November 19, 2019 / 4:23 am

          After observing Slide Brook’s operations last year, I’ve noticed some things. It takes a lot of snow for the mountain to be able to run it. Once there is enough snow, they groom the access roads and get everything ready. This usually happens around January 15th or so (about a month after Mt. Ellen opens). After Slide Brook is in operation, they are more lenient when it comes to snowfall. It usually operates close to the closing date of Mt. Ellen with only 1 or 2 weeks of downtime due to the conditions not being matched. Basically what I’m saying is, Sugarbush needs those snow conditions to be matched to start running it, but once they’re running it, they do their best to keep it running. On some weekends it is quite popular and actually gets a small line, but on others, hardly anyone is riding it.

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        • Michael November 19, 2019 / 7:22 am

          Thomas Jett- As Peter states “there is some misinformation…” which is that there is some Vermont regulation that prohibits the operation in certain conditions. The facts are that Sugarbush is required to have and submit to the State a ‘Rope evacuation plan’ (1006.2). From Win’s statement to Peter, this includes having snowmobile access for lift maintenance to all 40 towers (so LM can determine if the lift is truly in a situation where a rope evacuation is necessary) AND the ability for Patrol to access all areas quickly and evacuate guests out SAFELY.
          So this is not a State requirement but part of Sugarbush’s internal procedures (Rope evacuation Plan) that determine when Slide Brook will run.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Thomas Jett November 19, 2019 / 1:08 pm

          So then the Tramway Board would reject a plan that didn’t allow for snowmobile access? Or, like others are claiming, is this just a judgement call on management’s part? All I’m asking is whose idea these restrictions are, and why they were put into place. It can’t be the case that there’s no reason for them.

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        • Michael November 19, 2019 / 4:51 pm

          Thomas- The decision to use snowmobiles for access is part of Sugarbush’s Evacuation Plan, not something that is required, accepted or rejected by the State. As long as the Plan meets the requirements of Vermont 1006.2 and ANSI X.3.2.5.7 it will be accepted. The fact that the lift is over 11,000 feet long and has 40 towers with the possibility of @ 100 carriers being fully loaded, the key requirement is the timely and safe evacuation of passengers. With the personnel available at any given time and the access that is required to the 40 towers, Sugarbush has determined that snowmobile access to the line to provide timely and safe evacuation is necessary. I hope this clears this issue up.

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  6. Teddy's Lift World November 18, 2019 / 5:32 pm

    So I just got the news from my father that he’s going to the hearing on Wednesday. I will comment on this post again once I find out the details from him after it has happened.

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  7. Carleton November 19, 2019 / 6:50 am

    I’m wondering if the fact that Jay is for sale, pushed Win Smith to this decision sooner than he might have wanted? If Alterra had purchased Jay – then Sugarbush would have been less desirable to Alterra – now it’s the other way around….

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    • skitheeast November 19, 2019 / 1:01 pm

      Sugarbush is more Boston focused while Jay is more Montreal focused, so they don’t overlap too much. Sugarbush competes more with Stowe, MRG, Smuggs, Killington to a lesser extent, and a number of NH mountains. A Jay purchase would solidify Alterra’s position in Montreal, with Mont Tremblant and Jay being two of the most prominent mountains in the market.

      Like

    • Teddy's Lift World November 19, 2019 / 1:34 pm

      According to him, his turning point was Vail’s acquisition of Peak Resorts.

      Like

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