Vail Resorts agrees to buy Mount Sunapee, Okemo Mountain ski areas

  • Jesse Yates, of Sunapee, middle, Mikey Rousseau, of Manchester, right, and Steven Laustsen, of Newbury, back left, hang out in the rail park on Mount Sunapee in Newbury, N.H., on the mountain's fourth day open this season, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

  • Tim Mueller, who holds the lease on operating the state-owned Mount Sunapee ski resort, answers an interviewer's question in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 7, 2004. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Geoff Hansen

  • The Mount Sunapee Ski Area is seen, Tuesday, April 30, 2013 in Newbury, N.H. The company that owns the Resort ski area is getting another chance to argue that New Hampshire acted improperly in preventing the resort from expanding. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) Jim Cole

Valley News
Published: 6/4/2018 12:56:48 PM

Vail Resorts Inc. said on Monday it has agreed to buy Mount Sunapee Resort, Okemo Mountain Resort and a Colorado resort from the Mueller family, which has long run the ski areas.

Broomfield, Colo.-based Vail Resorts will pay $82 million for Triple Peaks LLC, the parent company of Sunapee, Okemo and Crested Butte (Colo.) Mountain Resort, according to a news release from Vail. The deal is expected to close this summer, and Vail would also give Triple Peaks $155 million to pay off the leases that all three resorts have with a company linked to Och-Ziff Real Estate.

Vail Resorts also said it is buying Stevens Pass Resort in Washington in a separate transaction from another company, for $67 million.

Both transactions are subject to regulatory approval. Vail Resorts would seek state approval from Vermont and New Hampshire to assume the state land leases for Okemo Mountain Resort and Mount Sunapee Resort. Such land lease transfers in Vermont and New Hampshire are subject to administrative review and consent from each state, the release said.

Triple Peaks is owned by Sunapee residents Tim and Diane Mueller and their children Ethan and Erica Mueller. The sale includes the three ski resort operations, as well as Okemo Valley Golf Club in Ludlow, Vt., and Tater Hill Golf Club in Windham, Vt., Sunapee and Okemo said in its own news release. 

“Diane and I are incredibly proud of what we have accomplished at the three resorts for the last 36 years,” Tim Mueller, president of Triple Peaks, said in the release.

Vail said it plans to invest $35 million over the next two years across the four resorts, including the one in Washington state.

The Vail news release said operations through this summer “will continue in the ordinary course of business, as will future winter seasonal hiring.”

After the deal closes, Vail “plans to retain the vast majority of each resort’s employees and will be working with the local leadership teams in the coming months to determine the right long-term management structure for the resorts,” the release said.

Tim and Diane Mueller – who bought Okemo in 1982, expanded their operations to include Mount Sunapee in 1998 and then bought Crested Butte in 2004 – will no longer run the resorts after the closings.

In a letter to the Sunapee community Monday, the four Muellers said they considered the sale carefully and realize that Vail Resorts is a far bigger company than their family-run model.

“We realize the idea of a large company like Vail Resorts overseeing operations at each of our unique resorts may feel unsettling. However, the reality is they are mountain operators and run some of the best and most successful resorts in the industry. Putting Mount Sunapee in their hands will ensure a good future for the ski area and will therefore help support a good future for the entire Lake Sunapee Region. They are great operators and good people, and they will invest in the mountain and community,” the Muellers wrote.

Several New Hampshire environmental groups have long opposed a “West Bowl” expansion at Mount Sunapee that would add four new trails and a new chairlift and spur the development of a privately owned parcel on the mountain for ski homes.

Friends of Mount Sunapee on Monday greeted news of the sale to Vail Resorts with caution.

“We are looking for assurances from the State that this matter will come before the governor and Executive Council for review and that there will be a public process to get information and answers to people’s questions and concerns,” the group said in a statement. “Vigorous oversight and transparent management are needed. As stewards of our public lands, the State has the responsibility to manage and protect the public interest at Mount Sunapee and to preserve the park’s unique natural resources.”

Mike Colbourn, president of Lebanon-based SnoCountry Inc., a not-for-profit media marketing firm serving ski areas – and where Ethan Mueller serves as chairman – said the Mueller family had a major impact on the ski industry through their focus on a high level of service for guests. Colbourn cited the installation of a high-speed lift with heated seats and a bubble to protect skiers from the bitter cold at Okemo as the type of investment that increases skier visits, and therefore revenue.

“It can be a terribly challenging business at times,” Colbourn said. “You just have to maintain the higher level of service … and it’s not easy when you have Mother Nature as a business partner.”

Vail Resorts is publicly traded, and it already operates 11 mountain resorts and three urban ski areas, including Park City in Utah, Vail and Breckenridge in Colorado, Heavenly near Lake Tahoe, Stowe in Vermont, and Whistler in British Columbia. It also runs upscale hotels with the RockResorts brand, as well as the Grand Teton Lodge Company in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Although Vail plans to honor ski passes already sold for Sunapee, Okemo and Crested Butte for the 2018-19 ski season, it is also already folding the resorts into its Epic Pass series across resorts.

“Together, the acquisitions of Okemo, Mount Sunapee, Crested Butte, and Stevens Pass will significantly enhance the Vail Resorts’ network of resort experiences, adding even more variety and choice for all of our pass holders and guests,” Rob Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts, said in a release.

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