Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows complete merger

CEO Andy Wirth focusing efforts on effectively managing seamless transition
By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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With the merger of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows completed last week, President and CEO Andy Wirth is enthusiastic about the future. The new company, now known as Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC, is a venture of KSL Capital Partners, which owns Squaw Valley USA, and JMA Ventures, former owner of Alpine Meadows. Wirth and Todd Chapman, president and CEO of JMA Ventures, began working in earnest on the merger last January. “The No. 1 resort that our customers skied other than Squaw was Alpine,” Wirth said. “With that and additional finance modeling, the transaction made sense.” The two neighboring resorts complement each other very well, Wirth said. “Both receive a tremendous amount of snow,” he said. “No. 2, Alpine Meadows has an outstanding intermediate — very family friendly — terrain. Alpine has a higher level of appeal based on terrain and history, arguably, to that family customer and mid-intermediate skier who wants wide-open, comfortably groomed terrain. We’ve actually vastly improved the quality of grooming and the terrain we groom. As we welcome Alpine, we also know we’re vastly improving Squaw’s offering. … Both resorts have a certain type of skier and for the advanced skier, it is about challenge. … (We are advancing) our effort to broaden the appeal to the advanced and expert customer as we advance appeal to the intermediate customer.” $50 million renovation in the works Wirth is counting on renovations at both resorts to enhance that appeal. The first year of a five-year, $50 million facelift at Squaw Valley USA has been completed with $15 million invested so far. The changes include three new dining spots, two new grooming machines and signage, spokeswoman Amelia Richmond said in a recent press release. During 2012 and 2013, the focus will be on continuing to improve facilities and lifts. Among the changes will be conversion of the Granite Chief chairlift into a high-speed quad and installation of a new high camp express chair, Wirth said. Updating Alpine Meadows is in the early planning stages. “We’re not ready to discuss what we’re contemplating doing for Alpine,” Wirth said. The research and analysis that went into the Squaw Valley remodel will go into planning for Alpine. That includes working with real estate development analysts and mountain planners as well as doing consumer research, he said. At the same time he’s working on attracting more customers to the resorts to experience those changes. “We intend to grow visitation through inviting some customers that have skied at Squaw and Alpine over the past couple of decades and have stopped,” he said. “We can grow by inviting them back.” He cites the new super pass and the quality of services, facilities and programs as big selling points. The super pass, introduced this season, gives visitors access to both resorts. “Our season passes are going gangbusters, so we know that message is getting out,” he said. Another aspect is attracting the destination traveler. “With my experience in Colorado, Utah and Canada, a very objective view of where North Lake Tahoe sits as a destination is not in a primary set of destinations,” Wirth said. “If we are honest with ourselves, it’s really not. With improvements to our services and more nonstop flights, we can attract a new destination customer to this region.” He’s seeing progress in bringing in more non-stop flights from major cities into the Reno-Tahoe Airport and looks forward to more. “We helped secure an additional nonstop out of Houston, which started Feb. 10,” he said. In March, the airport announced Delta non-stop service to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Among other important hubs are Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Dallas, Wirth said. “Leadership at Reno-Tahoe Airport is outstanding,” Wirth said. At Boards N Motion in Auburn, assistant manager Dylan Lane welcomes developments in the Sierra ski industry that attract more visitors. “Squaw Valley is a world class resort,” he said. “… They cater to any level of skier or snowboarder ... There’s a draw for the more advanced crowd because they have terrain there that you don’t see at any other resort at the Tahoe area.” Lane, a snowboarder, likes the idea of the super pass. “In the past it would have been difficult (for me) to (visit there) often because of the cost, so (the super pass) opens it up to a lot more people,” he said. Ed Gates, owner of Snow Mountain Rentals in Auburn, said he doesn’t think the renovations and merger will impact his business “because people are going to go up there regardless.” “I think what is going to happen is it will be an advantage for (visitors) to be able to go to both resorts,” he said. “That’s a good deal. That way you don’t have to spend more if you want to ski at the other resort.” Reach Gloria Young at