Park City business leaders, optimistic, say effects unclear of Deer Valley Resort acquisition | ParkRecord.com

Park City business leaders, optimistic, say effects unclear of Deer Valley Resort acquisition

They are encouraged by assurance resort operations will not be drastically changed

Deer Valley Resort announced its planned acquisition Monday morning, sending ripples through the ski industry, but later in the week, business leaders in Park City, who had been unaware of the negotiations, were still processing the news.

Several said they expected it to take weeks or months for the ramifications of the acquisition to become clear. Yet, they expressed measured optimism, with the prevailing attitude seemingly that whatever is good for Deer Valley is good for Park City.

The announcement came as a surprise to Bill Malone, president and CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau. After two days of reflection, he said Wednesday that plenty of unknowns remain because the entity set to purchase Deer Valley is newly formed.

The yet-unnamed venture comprises KSL Capital Partners, LLC, and Henry Crown and Company, which recently partnered to acquire Intrawest Resort Holdings. The group will operate 12 other resorts including Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in California and Steamboat Resort in Colorado.

The acquisition is expected to close by the start of ski season, but questions about the resort's future may linger, Malone said.

"It's not like the situation when Vail (Resorts) acquired Park City Mountain Resort," he said. "You knew what the formula was, pretty much how they did things."

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Online reaction to the announcement of the deal was mixed, and a sizeable portion of skiers, Park City residents and observers were skeptical about what it may mean for the town. They expressed worries that new ownership would mean a new Deer Valley, and that changes may eventually include increased prices and diminished authenticity.

Bob Wheaton, the resort's president and general manager, however, has sought to assure guests that operations will remain the same. He lauded the deal as a step toward an even brighter future for the world-renowned ski area.

Malone said he understands the trepidation among some, including people in the business community, but expects the soul of Deer Valley to remain intact under new ownership, with a focus on aspects the resort is known for, like its food and beverage offerings, a high level of service and immaculate grooming.

"It's a well-run company with a great brand and reputation," he said, adding that visitors typically aren't concerned with who owns a resort as long as it delivers a top-notch product. "Probably that's a lot of what they were paying for, in addition to bricks and mortar. So I wouldn't anticipate much change."

Greg Gendron, president of the Park City Area Lodging Association, echoed that sentiment, saying it's too soon to see what the acquisition will mean for the industry but that Deer Valley quelled many of the initial worries by making clear that its operational philosophy won't change.

"Any time Deer Valley's name is involved in any conversation, you sort of accept it with great optimism," he said.

Sara Werbelow, president of the Park City Board of Realtors, said she expects the purchasing entity to be a strong operator and added that it's important for Deer Valley to continue providing a distinct product from the one skiers find at PCMR.

"For the consumer, they'll still have diversity in the offering," she said. "They're not just coming and having one kind of ski experience.

Malone speculated the entity acquiring Deer Valley will eventually offer a multi-resort season pass similar to Vail Resorts' Epic Pass, which allows customers to access the slopes of several of the company's ski areas. The Chamber/Bureau does not have specific data about how many out-of-town Epic Pass holders have visited Park City, but Malone said there has been a rise in the number of people coming from areas near Vail Resorts' other properties.

That's one reason the Chamber/Bureau added Boston to its television advertising strategy after Vail Resorts bought Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont.

Malone said Park City could benefit from a similar influx of visitors if Deer Valley is added to a competing multi-resort pass.

The resort has stated that the season pass will be unchanged for the upcoming winter.

"There has to be a connection there," he said. "And that's internationally, not just domestically. (The pass) would be a popular product in places like Brazil and South America and Mexico."

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