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Vail Resorts to buy Whistler Blackcomb for $1.05 billion

Vail will now own the two biggest ski areas in North America

In a huge move for the ski industry, Vail Resorts just announced a deal to buy British Columbia’s Whistler Blackcomb for approximately 1.4 billion Canadian dollars ($1.05 billion). According to the information released to Vail investors, Vail will acquire 100 percent of Whistler Blackcomb’s stock and the deal is expected to close this fall.

As one of the key venues of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler Blackcomb is North America’s largest ski area with 8,171 skiable acres. There are more than 200 named trails, 37 chairlifts, and the resort is consistently voted one of the best ski areas in the world. It also boasts one of the longest running ski seasons anywhere, and is a growing summer destination for its mountain biking.

The move comes at a time when Vail Resorts, the leading ski resort operator in North America, has aggressively expanded. The purchase of Whistler marks Vail Resorts’ fourth acquisition since September 2014 when Vail bought Park City Mountain Resort for $182.5 million. In March 2015, Vail bought Australia's largest ski area, Perisher, in its first international expansion. Then, in early 2016, the company acquired Wilmot Mountain, a ski area in Wisconsin that's located approximately 65 miles north of Chicago.

With the addition of Whistler, Vail Resorts now owns or operates 10 mountain resorts and 3 urban ski areas, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood in Lake Tahoe; Perisher in Australia, Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin; Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan.

A press release about the transaction says that Vail Resorts "is committed to continuing Whistler Blackcomb's success and building on its strengths, including further investment in the resort and the community." It lists support for the Master Development Agreements with local First Nations, maintaining local Canadian leadership and local employment, and investing in Whistler’s ambitious plans for expansion.

A key element to Vail’s purchase of Whistler will be incorporating the resort into its successful season pass program. The press release states that Whistler Blackcomb will honor its existing season pass products and Vail Resorts will integrate Whistler into the Epic Pass for the 2017-2018 winter season.

The impact of this acquisition cannot be overstated. With the purchase of Whistler, Vail will now operate four out of the five biggest ski areas in North America (according to skiable acres):

1. Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia: 8,171 acres

2. Park City, Utah: 7,300 acres (now includes the Canyons)

3. Big Sky Resort, Montana: 5,800+ acres [owned by Boyne Resorts, not Vail Resorts]

4. Vail Mountain Resort, Colorado: 5,289 acres

5. Heavenly Mountain Resort, California: 4,800 acres

In an interview in May 2016, the CEO of Vail Resorts, Rob Katz, stated that the company was on the hunt for new investment opportunities. When asked what's next, Rob Katz stated, "We're absolutely looking at Japan, looking at other parts of Asia. We're also looking at other parts of North America and Europe. We really see the opportunity to create a global footprint for our company."

Looks like Whistler Blackcomb is the latest component of Vail Resorts’ "global footprint."