Why the Dealmaker Behind Vail Resorts Went Down Under to Expand His Skiing Empire

Illustration: Peter Diamond/Bloomberg Markets

When Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, bought Podunk ski areas outside of Detroit and Minneapolis in 2012, some people in the business thought he was nuts. They probably knew better than to underestimate him as he added another obscure bump in March: Australia’s Perisher, where much of the snow is man-made and half the lifts are T-bars, J-bars, and rope tows.

Katz, 48, has a plan. The former investment banker (Drexel Burnham Lambert) and buyout guy (Apollo Global Management) now has 11 resorts in his portfolio, including Park City and Heavenly. That’s up from five when Katz became Vail’s boss in 2006. What’s more, you can ski at all of them with a single-season Epic Pass that will cost $769 this year. It can be a very good deal: A single day at Vail Mountain is $159.

Katz agreed to buy Perisher in part to lure Australians north during their January holiday, when they log 1 million visits skiing abroad. Vail’s resorts capture less than 10 percent of those trips, he says. By offering a pass they can also use at home, Katz hopes to grab a bigger share of their ski dollar. The model proved itself in the Midwest, says Katz: “There are so many skiers in Detroit and Minneapolis—as many as in all of Colorado.”

The Epic Pass, launched in 2008, has become Katz’s killer app, not his loss leader. “This is a trade,” he says. Skiers score a discount for risking a purchase before the snow flies, and Katz gets a hedge against poor snowfall. “It’s a fair deal.”

By having resorts in many different weather regions and by preselling so many season passes, Katz has kept Vail’s winter-dependent stock hot in a warming world. Vail—ticker MTN US on the NYSE—returned 46 percent in the 12 months ended on April 30. 

This story appears in the June 2015 issue of Bloomberg Markets.

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