By Caroline Kirby
There are over 600 ski resorts across North America with over 100,000 acres of slopes to shred. However, a majority of these resorts are owned by a handful of corporations and holding companies — five to be exact: KSL/Aspen, Vail Resorts, Powdr Corp, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, and EPR Properties. Many of these companies’ reach extends far beyond North America, but for the sake of this article, we will focus on the region.
You can see a comprehensive list of who owns which resort in the U.S. from the National Ski Areas Association.
Do companies own the land that ski resorts are on?
This is where things get a little tricky. While ski resorts typically don’t own the actual land, there are various different ownership structures that define ski resorts. In the United States specifically, some of the most common structures include:
• Mountain is owned entirely by the resort
• Mountain is federal land such as the U.S. Forest Service.
• Combination of public and private land.
When ski resorts don’t own their land, they pay rent or a yearly permit which is calculated as a percentage of their gross income. In the U.S., most ski resorts are operating under lease agreements with the U.S. Forest Service or other government organizations. In recent years, many resorts have received approvals for expansions directly from the USFS, which has many environmental and local community activists concerned.
Purchasing, running, and maintaining a ski resort is expensive. You’re paying to buy or lease the land, investing in extremely expensive equipment, staff to run it, and thanks to climate change, many popular resorts rely fully on snowmaking machines as annual snowfall is rapidly decreasing.
These are just some of the contributing factors which have led to mom-and-pop ski areas having to close or turn to community-led non-profits to keep their doors open.
How do the big-name resorts operate?
In North America, Vail and Whistler are two of the most known resorts, and in this article from The Atlantic, they point out that they make most of their money from lodging, rentals, and food. That’s why avid skiers will see more and more destination resorts thriving while the smaller shops that tend to serve local communities have to close their doors for good.
What is the future of ski resorts in the U.S.?
Ski resorts across the country are facing some hard truths. With the COVID-19 pandemic still going on, rising temperatures and melting snow, and the fall of local ski resorts and shops to big-name conglomerates, many aren’t sure what to expect from future ski seasons in the United States. If you’re looking ahead in the short term, Condé Nast Traveler wrote a great piece on what to expect when hitting the slopes during COVID.
As you head out on fall getaways and winter break in the coming weeks, it may be interesting to do a little investigating yourself to see who owns the resorts you visit. Do you know the history of the land you’re skiing on?
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