Blaise Carrig is the Co-President of Vail Resorts and one of the most influential members of the Snow Sports Industry. Since the early 70’s he has overseen operations at the nation’s top ski resorts. From his east coast beginnings managing Sugarbush Resort, to his move out west to direct daily operations at Canyons and later on at Heavenly. His mark on the sport and the industry that surrounds it is well known and thoroughly documented. After leaving his role of Senior VP at Heavenly, Carrig went on to join the executive team at Vail Resorts. Since September of 2008 Carrig served as Co-president of Vail Resort’s Mountain Division, and most recently accepted the role of Co-President of Vail Resorts in June of 2011. Clearly, not a man to rest on his laurels, Carrig has been instrumental in the ski resort-mega entity’s most recent initiatives including today’s announcement of the acquisition of the legendary Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
This is huge news for the Reno/Lake Tahoe community, and brings all three of the region’s top mountain destinations under the Vail Resorts marquee. Heavenly was acquired back in March of 2002 and Northstar-Tahoe was incorporated into the family in October of 2010.
Starting today, Vail season pass holders will be able to enjoy the steeps at Kirkwood for the remainder of the season, and going forward the resort will be included in next year’s season pass from the start of the 2012-2013 season.
Upon hearing the big news we decided to give Blaise a quick call to get the inside scoop on Vail Resorts latest acquisition, the effect on Kirkwood, the Reno/Lake Tahoe community and the industry as a whole.
The Ski Channel: To kick things off, how did this agreement come about? What was the process?
Blaise Carrig: During my time overseeing operations at Heavenly I spent a lot of time in the area skiing at Kirkwood. I loved the experience I had there; they have fantastic steeps and high alpine that is unparalleled in the region. Since moving into my role as Co-President I took the initiative to speak with our team and propose giving Kirkwood a serious look as a potential addition. Turns out they were interested.
TSC: How long were Vail Resorts and Kirkwood in talks?
BC: We first reached out and began serious talks late last year, around November-December.
TSC: Wow! That went quick!
BC: Yeah, both sides felt it was a fair deal and beneficial to all parties.
TSC: What was the attraction to bring in Kirkwood, and how does it fit into the current roster of world-class resorts already part of the Vail family?
BC: Kirkwood is different from the other resorts we have, and will be truly additive to the Vail Resorts experience. In terms of the Reno/Lake Tahoe scene, each of the three resorts has their own distinct personality. Northstar has its long vertical groomers; Heavenly has its amazingly beautiful view of the lake, and Kirkwood has its steeps and great tree skiing.
TSC: Kirkwood definitely has a strong following among skiers and snowboarders across the country – there are a lot of people passionate about the resort and the “core” mentality it elicits.
BC: Absolutely! It’s a skier’s mountain, and is easy to get hooked on. The skiers that frequent Kirkwood are extremely passionate about it. I’m excited, it’s a great property — and now all Vail pass holders will be able to experience it.
TSC: In your opinion, does this acquisition have even greater implications for the overall health of the resort industry?
BC: I can’t speak to the entirety of the industry, but I think it shows that on our part there is a huge confidence in the business as a whole. Skiing and snowboarding have great appeal, and continue to be growing sports. This acquisition shows that Vail Resorts is willing to “put our money where our mouth is”.
TSC: Last month, both you and Andy Wirth (CEO of neighboring Squaw Valley) joined the Reno/Tahoe Winter Games Coalition Board. Does a Vail-operated Lake Tahoe have greater chances of becoming an Olympic destination for the 2022 Winter Games?
BC: I don’t know if it will make dramatic difference, but we could be in play in both states – Colorado has a strong interest as well. Our resorts feature downhills and world cup events that could easily be logical sites for the games, and our teams are hard at work to bring the games to both Colorado and Reno/Lake Tahoe.
If either bids move forward – they both offer great attributes for the Winter Games.
TSC: How does the acquisition of Kirkwood affect your role within Vail Resorts?
BC: I’m excited to have a broader scope – I still plan to spend a majority of my days at all the resort communities — that will be a time challenge — but you’ve got to spend time on the mountains to ensure the experience you are offering is there and it’s important to the communities.
The one thing these resorts all have in common; from Mad River Glenn and Sugarbush, to Canyons, to Lake Tahoe and Colorado is that the relationship between the resort and community are so synergistic. They are locked together in a very positive way. Individuals that ski in Vail come for the great skiing as well as the world-class community. It has been very important to retain that mentality throughout my career.
TSC: Being that 2011/2012 has seen sporadic weather and lack-luster snowfall in some areas – what impact has this situation made on Vail Resorts’ operations and business plans?
BC: Our view is the long view — the big picture. Just like in the stock market, you cannot make decisions based upon the current and short-term outlook.
Our view is bullish. From Vail Resorts’ standpoint, the industry has seen steady growth over the last decade. There is a huge attraction in the emerging youth market that continues to enter the sport. At the same time, baby boomers such as myself are hanging on to their skis a lot longer – improved technologies as well as better resort conditions and grooming are a big contributor to that longevity.
At its heart, skiing and snowboarding are very compelling activities for many people. We sell passion—it’s the greatest thing you can get from any product. Our investment continues to add value to that experience. Last year, Northstar – this year, Kirkwood.
TSC: In summation, what does Kirkwood’s addition to Vail Resorts mean for the skiers and snowboarders?
BC: The key message is the vibe — -maintaining what Kirkwood is and respecting that, while helping to enhance it at the same time. We also intend to value to the lift ticket pricing proposition Kirkwood visitors have come to know and enjoy. In addition to retaining these lower price points and including the resort into our season pass program, we will actually have a Kirkwood-only season pass available for those that choose to go that route.
We are just getting the deal finalized now. Once we get in and start operating the resort for the remainder of the season, we will spend a lot of time talking to the Kirkwood team — as well as its guests — to determine a plan to address the resort’s needs and make the experience even better!
We are excited about this purchase, and think it’s going to be great for our guests!
- End of Interview
Its going to be facinating to see what these new changes will bring about, for Kirkwood, Vail Resorts and the ski community at large. One thing is for sure, the terrain is going to continue to be steep and the snow will be deep at Kirkwood!