Australia's not-so Snowy Mountains: Why Vail bought a ski resort Down Under

Tue Apr 7, 2015 3:30am EDT
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By Swati Pandey

SYDNEY (Reuters) - When self-confessed snowboarding addict Risma Utami planned ski trips from her adopted hometown of Sydney, conspicuously absent from the wishlist of destinations were the fields in the nearby Snowy Mountains.

"Europe, Japan and New Zealand are cheaper, you have better quality snow there, more challenging slopes, great accommodation, less waiting time at the lift and more skiing," the 29-year old said.

With climate change threatening Australia's already meager alpine skiing resources, the Snowy Mountains might not seem an obvious choice for the first international foray by U.S. ski giant Vail Resorts Inc, which last week agreed to pay $136 million for Perisher Ski Resort.

Perisher is Australia's largest and most popular ski resort, but in a country better known for deserts and beaches, it faces some significant natural hurdles.

The summit of Mt Perisher, at just over 2,000 meters (6,500 ft), is nearly 900 meters (2,950 ft) below the base of Vail's Breckenridge, one of the almost dozen U.S resorts it owns.

Perisher's annual snowfall has varied between a healthy 384 cm (12-1/2 ft) and a woeful 7 cm (3 ins) over the past five years, according to snow sports website, forcing the resort to increasingly rely on artificial snowmaking.

But for Vail, the deal was as much about attracting more well-traveled and well-heeled skiers from Down Under to its U.S. resorts as getting its hands on Perisher's limited, albeit profitable, assets - particularly as climate change bites.

"Mountains in the northern hemisphere are generally more luxurious, bigger, better mountains than those in the southern hemisphere," Vail chairman Rob Katz told Reuters after the deal, which will offer Perisher season pass holders access to Vail's North American resorts.   Continued...

Snow lies atop mountains in the alpine area of the state of Victoria on Christmas Day, in this December 25, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/David Gray/Files