Add Sugarbush to the list in what is another chapter in the Ikon vs. Epic season pass war.
On Wednesday, Alterra Mountain Company made the latest move in its rivalry with Vail Resorts and the Epic Pass’ infiltration into the East Coast by announcing it had entered into an agreement to purchase Sugarbush Resort in Vermont, potentially expanding the offerings under the Ikon Pass. The deal would bring the company’s total to 15 year-round mountain destinations throughout North America.
Sugarbush had been under the Ikon Pass umbrella since last season, but this ups Alterra’s presence in New England. Sugarbush Resort Ikon Pass access will remain the same for this season, with seven-day access on the Ikon Pass and five-day access with blackouts on the Ikon Base Pass. That figures to change in 2020 when Sugarbush’s presence on the Ikon should include unlimited skiing such as it does at other Alterra-owned properties including nearby Stratton, Winter Park, Copper Mountain Resort, and Alpine Meadows.
Killington, Stratton, Loon, Sunday River, and Sugarloaf are the other New England ski resorts with limited access under the Ikon Pass.
Sugarbush owner Win Smith posted a lengthy, open letter on the resort’s web site Wednesday, explaining the reasoning behind the deal. He expressed his satisfaction in having made Sugarbush a family-owned resort for the past two decades, but admitted that Vail’s recent acquisition of Peak Resorts (which included Attitash, Wildcat, and Mount Snow) was the tipping point in his decision to sell.
“Over the years of our ownership, we have turned down several offers to sell Sugarbush and have prided ourselves on being independently owned and operated,” Smith wrote. “However, recent events in the ski industry and the challenge of rising costs posed both by climate change and by doing business in Vermont have convinced me that a new owner is needed to ensure a sustainable future for Sugarbush. Until now I had not laid out a succession plan and identified who would be the best future custodian of Sugarbush. Most importantly, I needed to find someone who would care for Sugarbush as we have and our entire Sugarbush community would expect. I have found such an owner in Alterra Mountain Company.”
Smith will stay on as President and COO of the resort.
It was a mixed bag of reaction from the Northeast skiing community upon hearing the news, especially considering the long-term viability of privately-owned mountains. But as Smith wrote, “the multi-resort season pass has changed the landscape.”
That landscape now includes Sugarbush, and it’s a matter of when — not if — the next shoe drops.
Saddleback on the rebound
It’s been a long wait for those hoping for Maine’s Saddleback Mountain to finally run the lifts again, but it seems there’s finally end in sight. Saddleback is slated to reopen in 2020 after the Berry family reached an agreement with Arctaris Impact Fund of Boston to sell the resort. I had the opportunity to speak this week with Andy Shepard, who will take a role as Saddleback’s new general manager, about the projected closing in December, as well as some of the revitalizing investments that might be headed the ski area’s way. “This is not going to be your grandfather’s Saddleback,” Shepard said. I would argue that Saddleback already boasted some of the most unique terrain in New England, so I’m excited to see what the new owners have in store. It will be great to have it back.
Blizzard of opening dates
At the time of this newsletter last week, Killington was the only ski resort open in the Northeast, with Sunday River on the cusp of its first weekend of the season. That list expanded Wednesday with Bretton Woods (free lift ticket waited for those who brought canned goods to the New Hampshire ski area on opening day) and Vermont’s Mount Snow. On Friday, Wildcat, Wachusett, Sugarloaf, and Loon are scheduled to start running the lifts. Cranmore Mountain Resort, in North Conway, N.H., will open on Saturday, the earliest opening in the ski area’s history.
Improved snowmaking capabilities, not to mention some welcomed natural snowfall in the northern mountains, have, indeed, delivered a strong start to the season. We’re still in a wait-and-see mode to discover whether we could possibly match the awesome November of 2018, but it’s early.
Steals and deals
Each week in this space we’ll bring you some unique deals to keep an eye out for when you’re planning your time in ski country. This week, we present the New England Ski Journal readers special at the Comfort Inn and Suites in North Conway. Receive 10 percent off all direct booked reservation by calling the hotel at 603-356-8811. Visit www.northconwaycomfortinn.com for more information. This deal is good for the entire 2019-20 season.
The Boston Ski Expo is taking place this weekend, which means lots of stoke to be had at the Seaport World Trade Center, not to mention all the annual deals to find at Country Ski and Sport’s sale, the region’s biggest with savings of up to 80 percent on equipment and apparel.
It also means ski and snowboard movie time.
Here are a few that you can catch in the Boston area over the next few days and weeks.
— TGR’s “Roadless” will play at the Aquarium IMAX theater on Friday night.
— Warren Miller Entertainment’s “Timeless” will be at the Somerville Theater Nov. 20-21, and at the Berklee Performance Center on Nov. 23.
— “Dream Job,” by Katie Burrell and “Core Shots,” by Daniel Thomson will both be presented at the Parlor Custom Skis factory on Saturday night.