As the snow season winds down across the country, Alterra Mountain Company is ramping up its efforts to make improvements to the tune of about $500 million.
In the coming year, Alterra plans to invest about $400 million in ski lifts, snowmaking, summer adventures, guest amenities and resort infrastructure.
Another $50 million will go to employee housing and $40 million will be spent on technology upgrades.
The Daily spoke with Bryan Elliott, chief development officer and president of the real estate division at Alterra Mountain Company, to find out more about the investments and about how the snow season went.
Ikon Pass Helped with Extreme Weather
In direct competition with Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass, Alterra offers the Ikon Pass, which provides access to more than 50 mountains around the world.
Because skiers and snowboarders pre-committed to buying their recreation for the year, the effects of extreme weather were mitigated somewhat.
“We didn’t get enough snow in the East, we got perfect snow in the Colorado Rockies, and we got too much in the West,” Elliott said.
“That together made for a challenging year. Some of the conditions out West were record-setting, in not a great way. It was just so much snow it was hard to manage.”
The big benefit with the Ikon Pass, in light of the regional difficulties this year, is it gives skiers and snowboarders options beyond their base or home resort.
“We had a lot of travel from the East Coast, for example, where people chose to come out and still use their passes.”
The pass has made the sport more affordable, despite it still being an expensive recreational option, Elliott said.
But the pass model in some ways is an “old way of thinking about pre-committed revenue,” Elliott said.
In the past, it allowed a company that didn’t have enough cash to get through the summer and fund repairs to equipment and preparations for next year.
“But it’s critical in today’s world that you still have to deliver,” Elliott said. “And if it’s not a good season, it’s a problem.”
Alterra’s $500 Million in Changes
The strategy behind deploying the $500 million is focused on two areas: the resort guests and deferred maintenance, Elliott said.
“We are focused a lot on lifts and snowmaking because if we have the capacity and can efficiently move our guests on the mountain, the better their experience will be,” Elliott said.
Alterra is investing in more efficient snowmaking systems at Winter Park Resort, Steamboat, Palisades Tahoe, Sugarbush, Snowshoe and Mammoth Mountain that should reduce water usage.
The other approach is to tackle upkeep and maintenance of the facilities.
“We try to keep the things we have in good working order,” Elliott added.
Alterra is putting significant resources into expanding access and terrain at its Steamboat resort in Colorado.
Steamboat is getting 655 more acres of expert terrain in Mahogany Ridge and Fish Creek Canyon, and a new 10-person gondola is being touted by the company as the longest in North America.
The new lift should allow visitors to move more freely around the mountain without worrying about getting trapped at the base.
Elliott said while Steamboat is a “great town,” some of the resort’s prior owners didn’t pay “proper attention” to it.
“It’s our key resort destination in Colorado,” he added. “We just felt like it was obvious that over the years it hadn’t been given the care and the opportunity it represented. We have Steamboat very high on our list.”
Aside from the terrain and lift upgrades, Steamboat will also offer the Greenhorn Ranch Learning Center, which is a dedicated beginners area featuring terrain-based learning, four magic carpets and the Greenhorn Ranch Express, a detachable quad lift.
Elliott said the company is looking into replicating this at other resorts as well.
Despite the late-season snow slowing down some of the construction, the improvements to Steamboat are on schedule and should be completed by the coming snow season.
“But as snow farmers you never want to complain about having too much snow,” Elliott said.
Alterra’s roster of California resorts includes Palisades Tahoe, Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain, Big Bear Mountain Resort and Snow Valley.
In the past year, Alterra opened the Base-to-Base Gondola that remade Palisades Tahoe into one of California’s largest ski areas.
Elliott said the company will still be working on parking facilities through the summer and fall.
As far as preparation, if Tahoe were to get another year like this year’s extraordinary snow season, Elliott said there’s not much “shoring up” the company can do.
“When you get relentless, continuous snow, you just have to wait it out a bit,” he added.
Snowmaking, lift replacement, and lift overhaul are at the top of the list of initiatives for Alterra’s East Coast resorts, which include Snowshoe, Stratton Mountain, and Sugarbush Resort.
At Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia, Alterra is working on a new design concept that will feature enhanced skier services, including food and beverage and après offerings, and other year-round activities. It’s also replacing the Powder Monkey lift with a fixed-grip quad that will increase uphill capacity in the Basin area and improve access to its Western Territory.
Elliott praised the automated snowmaking technology that knows when to turn on and off, making it more efficient.
“The industry is doing a lot in that area,” he said. “We’re trying to upgrade and take advantage of that everywhere we can.”
In areas such as Mammoth and Tahoe, the summer visitation numbers can be as strong as the winter, so Alterra is being careful to not cause too much disruption then.
Its larger projects include:
- Mammoth Mountain will revamp Woolly’s Adventure Summit, adding a mountain coaster. Woolly’s will also break ground this summer on a base lodge with food and beverage amenities. Future phases will add a zip coaster and adventure ropes courses.
- Additional summer offerings include a new alpine slide at Winter Park in Colorado and an aerial adventure course at Crystal Mountain in Washington state.
The ongoing struggle to provide accommodations for workers in resort areas with high real estate costs has been a problem for the entire industry and Alterra is not immune.
In one example of trying to alleviate the problem, Alterra is spending about $60 million to build around 330 beds in modular homes in Winter Park.
Elliott said the company is using modular construction to help on cost and because it’s quicker.
The company’s overall goal is to create between 3,000-3,500 beds that Alterra would subsidize for its employees.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at email@example.com.