Longtime Steamboat ski exec publishes 2nd book on industry, offers insight into Epic-Ikon battle
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Former Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. top executive Chris Diamond could not have imagined in late 2016, when “Ski Inc.,” his first book about the ski industry was released, that he would be back at it again so soon.
But that was before the ski resort version of “Game of Thrones” broke out in spring 2017 and changed the landscape of American skiing, perhaps forever. The competition between the houses of Epic and Ikon was suddenly on.
“The ski industry as we have known it, no longer exists,” he writes in the new book. “And this happened with a speed that is simply stunning.”
Diamond is referring to the previous dominance of Vail Resorts’ multi-resort Epic ski pass and the decision by the Crown Family, owners three ski resorts in and around Aspen, to partner with KSL, owner of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in the Sierras of California, to form a new alliance and fight back with a new multi-resort company,
Diamond, whose 44-year career as a ski executive stretched from Vermont to Colorado before he retired from his gig in Steamboat in January 2015, couldn’t remain on the sidelines any more than a ski bum could pass on 2 feet of powder.
And now, he is ready to release his follow-up to the first book, entitled “Ski Inc. 2020.” For skiers who are struggling to process the amount of rapid change that has overtaken ski resorts, the author’s contacts in the industry and his own savvy make it a compelling read.
The new book on the ongoing transformation of the ski resort industry by retired former president of Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Chris Diamond, “Ski Inc. 2020, “should be available in Steamboat Springs by the last week of October.
The author reports that subscribers to the industry Ski Area Management magazine will have a chance at advance copies, along with just two independent bookstores — Off the Beaten Path in Steamboat Springs and another bookstore in Wilmington, Vermont.
After Oct. 27, the books will be distributed nationally by West Margin Press and will be available on Amazon.
Aspen surprised the ski industry by acquiring the remains of the fallen Intrawest empire in 2017, including heavyweights Steamboat Resort and Winter Park in Colorado. Two days later they scored another coup, acquiring Mammoth Mountain, another significant California resort. Then, another heavyweight, ritzy Deer Valley, was added to Ikon, and the acquisitions battle only grew from there.
What: “Ski Inc. 2020” book launch party, book signing and author Q&A
When: 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3
Where: Bud Werner Memorial Library, Steamboat Springs
The new alliance ultimately settled on calling itself Alterra Mountain Co., and the change they brought to the winter resort landscape took Diamond’s breath away.
“Incredibly, Alterra, in a handful of months, managed to put together a viable competitor to Vail, something that would have been unconceivable just a year earlier,” Diamond said.
Author and retired ski industry executive Chris Diamond theorizes that since the advent of high-speed quad lifts, the importance of the community they operate in has been elevated.
“Prior to the advent of high-speed lifts, most skiers spent a full-day on the mountain,” he writes. “In today’s world, three to four hours of skiing is about all most guests can handle. That trend sends them into the resort village.”
Using Steamboat Springs as an example, he cites access to hot air ballooning, natural hot springs, art galleries, Strings Music Festival and Howelsen Hill as significant satisfiers in the destination ski picture.
“It’s the total vacation experience that matters, not just what happens on the mountain,” Diamond writes.
Steamboat skiers are able to purchase Alterra’s Ikon Pass without blackouts for around $1,000 (less than the amount Steamboat devotees once spent for a season pass), and it’s good for skiing at 41 resorts. For skiers who can accept some blackout days, the Ikon Base Pass was $749 compared to Epic’s $696. How can they do that?
“The (business) model is simply exchange a deep discount for early commitment,” Diamond writes. “The result is a much more stable business platform, with fewer peaks and valleys, which is especially important in the contest of climate change.”
Translation: A big chunk of annual winter revenues are in hand before a chairlift bullwheel ever starts turning.
What was not immediately appreciated or understood was how wildly popular the multi-resort passes would be, Diamond continues.
Diamond praised Robert A. Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, for his acumen in the first book and interviewed him at the Vail Resorts corporate headquarters in Broomfield for his latest book.
Katz, Diamond observes, was not the first ski executive to recognize the appeal of value passes. However, he concludes, it was Katz who was the first to grasp the potential of the passes and to build a company’s entire growth strategy around it.
Although Alterra has three resorts recording more than a million annual skier visits — Mammoth, Steamboat and Winter Park — Chris Diamond says, “They simply cannot compare in terms of profitability with Whistler Blackcomb, Park City or Vail’s big four in Colorado.”
Vail Resorts is well ahead of Alterra in terms of vertical integration, a factor that implies Vail is ahead of its competitor in terms of extracting as much revenue out of the overall resort than its competitor.
For example, Vail captures a bigger piece of the action in terms of rental retail, lodging, real estate brokerage and express shuttle businesses than Alterra does overall.
Tom Ross retired from the Steamboat Pilot & Today in 2018 after 36 years in the newspaper business. He continues to write a regular column for the paper.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.