Vail Resorts buys Kirkwood Mountain for $18 million


By Kathryn Reed

Vail Resorts has added a third Lake Tahoe area ski resort to its portfolio – Kirkwood Mountain Resort.

The $18 million acquisition was announced today.

Pending approval of the U.S. Forest Service, which owns the bulk of the land that is mostly in Amador and Alpine counties – with a slice in El Dorado County, the deal will go through. The Colorado-based ski company will take over the resort, retail operations at the base and rights to develop an area near Timber Creek at the base of chairs 7 and 9.

Kirkwood is Vail Resort's third Tahoe area ski resort. Photo/LTN file

The immediate change for skiers is anyone with a Heavenly or Northstar pass may ski at Kirkwood and anyone with a Kirkwood pass may ski at Heavenly or Northstar.

“Kirkwood skiers have a lot of passion because it is a really special place. One of the biggest things in our mind is to respect what Kirkwood is – the vibe, the small community feel. We really want to make sure we support that,” Blaise Carrig, co-president of Vail Resort’s Mountain Division, told Lake Tahoe News.

Kirkwood is much more of a big-mountain resort with its steeps compared to Heavenly (which Vail acquired in 2001) and Northstar (which Vail purchased in 2010).

The Wood, as locals call it, also attracts a different type of skier than Heavenly or Northstar. It’s more of a rugged individual who makes the nearly hour drive from South Lake Tahoe to Kirkwood over two mountain passes. After all, it’s a skull and cross bones that represent The Wall.

Plus, the snow at Kirkwood is usually deeper – nearly 800 inches last season – lighter and more constant than in Tahoe because of where the resort is located.

Kirkwood, though, needs some help to get to the next level in terms of infrastructure and improving the guest experience. It has two high-speed quad chairlifts, with one accessing beginner terrain.

“With every asset we look at what needs there are to improve the experience for the guests. We don’t have any specific plans at the moment,” Carrig said.

He said the sudden and dramatic improvements Vail Resorts did for this season at Northstar with the addition of a mid-mountain lodge and high-speed quad chairlift will not likely come as quickly to Kirkwood.

No dining facility at Kirkwood is memorable in a good way. The retail is basic.

Kirkwood’s master plan calls for substantial on-mountain improvements as well as real estate development.

Carrig said he is aware of the master plan, but it will take time to prioritize what to do first.

He and Casey Blann, who heads mountain operations at Heavenly, will lead the management team at Kirkwood for the time being.

David Likins, who has been CEO of Kirkwood, will take on the same title at Kirkwood Mountain Development. That is the company that retains the rights to most of the real estate holdings at Kirkwood.

“This is a great day,” Likins told Lake Tahoe News. “Vail will get us to the next level of user and guest experience. They operate fantastic resorts throughout the West.”

Likins also said Vail’s desire to retain the uniqueness of Kirkwood was important before he would agree to the sale.

Vail is not worried about the price or reliability of power that has plagued Kirkwood in the past. State-of-the-art diesel generators are expected to be online in two weeks. These replace the plant that burned to the ground in January 2010.

Kirkwood Mountain Public Utility District is its own entity since July. Mountain Utilities was an arm of Mountain Springs Kirkwood, the umbrella firm that had owned the ski resort as well.






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Comments (54)
  1. Dogula says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Most excellent.

  2. Pamala Valentine MSN, FNP-BC says - Posted: February 22, 2012


  3. snoheather says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    This most definitely is NOT excellent. The corporations have arrived and Tahoe is doomed. There soon will be no families left in Tahoe and it will be a resort town only for the uber rich. Thanks Vail for coming in and taking over Tahoe to cater to your money hungry stockholders.

  4. Hockey Chica says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Well said, snoheather.

  5. Dude says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Not sure how to feel about this, on one hand many friends who work there will either be let go or probably quit, but maybe now the lifts will run without having to turn off the power to the employees’ housing.
    So many things going through my head right now, don’t know what to think

  6. Kitten says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Maybe they could buy our hole at Stateline. Yahoo!

  7. Careaboutthecommunity says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    I’m optimistic that overall it will be a plus ;)

    I’ve heard all season of Kirkwood’s struggling, rumors of impending bankruptcy.

    Hope they will keep the overall character of Kirkwood, but improve upon that character!

  8. Chief Slowroller says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    it’s to bad the Vail Corp. sucks the plan is to take over the whole region

    what they don’t know is that Kirkwood is a dead horse

  9. Dogula says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    sno, Tahoe is doomed because the corporations have arrived? Seriously? Could they make Tahoe worse than it is? I think not. Heavenly has improved GREATLY since Vail bought it. Kirkwood has strugged along financially and needs some real money behind it.
    And for all you Vail haters who think corporations are EVIL, well, there are still ski areas around the lake that aren’t owned by Vail that you can patronize. But I think they’re ALL owned by corporations of one sort or another.

  10. Lisa says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    My concern is that with them owning so many, the prices will shoot up to Colorado levels.

  11. biggerpicture says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    The two big issues that would need to be overcome at the Wood are 1: water source to create more snowmaking capabilities (specifically for years like this) and 2: power generation.

    And as to the corprate issue, passes were more expensive when I moved here in the early eighties than they are now ($450 for a midweek pass purchased before Sept 15 at the Heave, $750 for a full week).

  12. Tahoe needs small Business says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    This is bad for the people of Tahoe good for the shareholders of Vail.

    My travel blog will continue to encourage people to avoid the mega corporate resorts in favor of the boutique independents businesses. From lodging to dining to recreation I encourage travelers to support the free enterprise system not the mega corps.

  13. Former supporter says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    New name for Tahoe: Vail West

  14. Marc says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Hopefully pass prices don’t go up too much next year. Don’t think I am enough of a “rugged individualist” to make the drive to kirkwood. I live in a ski town to ski, not drive 45 minutes to the wood. But it’s nice to have the option so all in all I am for it.

  15. RN Squared says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    This is bad for our community peeps…SnoHeather is right. They did this to communities in Colorado…Where do you think they invest all they’re $$$ they make?? Sure into the mountain…but nothing for OUR community folks. It all goes back to Colorado and the shareholders. Vail puts nothing into OUR community…NOTHING…

  16. Marc says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    And who ever got the home wood/ alpine/kirkwood pass last spring, then got squaw added for free and now gets heavenly/north star really won the season pass jackpot.

  17. Marc says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Vail puts recreation opportunities into this community. This recreation attracts visitors and residents alike. A lot of people depend on visitors in this community. Take away heavenly and you take away a lot of visitors.

  18. sandsconnect says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Sno Heather? – there are good corps and bad corps. I lived in CO for 4 years before here and we could not have been more happy with the job creation, give back to the community and promotion of snowsports that Vail Resorts demonstrated there, I expect the same.

    Lisa? – Prices shotting up to Colorado Levels? The Colorado Epic Pass gets you 7 resorts for like $500! That is how much I bought my Kirkwood only pass for this year. Believe it or not this will likely keep price and variety affordable. (and now people like me don’t have buy 2 or 3 passes!)

    Anyone who skis/rides alot can tell you the Kwood is an excellent mountian but is run horribly, this is a good chance to turn this around.

    I look forward to the increase in demand on our region for ecotravelling and people with real $’s to spend when they visit us.

  19. sandsconnect says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Tahoe Needs Small Business

    You are very niave to think that anyone in position to buy a ski resort and improve it is not backed by big money. Private ownership is a pipedream, Vail is likely saving Kwood from bancruptsy and saving Jobs and a sick mountain!

    Tahoe competes on a national level with other destinations like CO, WY, Whister. Our local businesses need to learn to provide the same level of service that a Vail experience does and they will have no trouble competing.

    Why don’t you slice off a dreadlock and come down to earth for a little while?

  20. biggerpicture says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    What did the Kilabrew’s do that was so wonderful when they owned the Heave? They didn’t have to worry about shareholders, the money went straight into their pocket, and they put very little back into the mountain.

  21. Monica says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    I like this move a lot. Without a large corporation to put some money into this town, we would not be where we are today. The purchase of Kirkwood by Vail will ensure that Kirkwood will continue to exist and get the funding they need to continue to be a great resort. Businesses large and small reep the benefits of Heavenly’s visitors. Vail has been a great community partner and has contributed to various organizations and programs throughout town. This is a great win for South Tahoe!

  22. Skierchic says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    I think it will be good. K’wood needs new blood in the system before it drys up and dies a horrible death. Can we just get some new high speed chairs that actually run faster than a hare? And power to run those chairs would be awesome. And maybe a decent place to eat and rest. The mountain will always look after itself with incredable skiing/boading.

  23. Joe says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    I heard they are going to connect heavenly and kirkwood, and make a super uber mega resort.

  24. dryclean says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    The majority of the people in this town need jobs. In order for there to be jobs, we need tourists. Plain and simple thats the way it is.
    If you live here and want this town to remain tired with crumbling infrastructure, you probably should consider moving on with your life and think about relocating.
    I think its safe to say that the majority of full-time residents would prefer that Vail invest in our community and bring some of the high-end clientele that they have in CO. Clientele that will spend money in lodging, dining, retail and gaming. Cash flow we desperately need to fix roads, clean up the issues polluting our lake and provide a source of steady income for us real locals that don’t have trust funds, retirement benefits or tenured jobs. Remember, Vail does not and will not run the county or the city or the lake. Locals still get to vote on who those people will be.

  25. Dogula says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Wow. All these people commenting that Vail does nothing for the community and prices will go up for passes because of the evil corporation are either brainwashed or brain dead.
    Vail does a LOT for the community, number one being giving a LOT of people JOBS. They do a lot of charitable giving as well.
    Remember what passes cost at Heavenly back when ASC owned it? Up around $800 at one point. And service SUCKED. Vail is an excellent corporation to have in town. We’ll all be “richer” because of them.
    Don’t be closed minded on this. Small businesses can thrive right alongside the big corporates.

  26. biggerpicture says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Dryclean, well put. I’m always amazed at the amount of locals who wear rose colored glasses and have the uninformed opinion that tourism isn’t our one and only economic engine driving this community. We are, and always will be a resort community and no industry will OR can replace tourism in the basin.

  27. sunriser2 says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Price seems cheap. For the cost of three lake front homes in Nevada you could own your own ski resort??

  28. Skier says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    You all complain Vail does nothing for the community, If it were not for Vail and the investment they put in snow-making this year….this town would be dead. Think about it! Vail- thank you bringing winter to Heavenly this year.

  29. Hang Ups From Way Back says - Posted: February 22, 2012


  30. Chief Slowroller says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    it was Bill Killebrew who put in the Snowmaking he had the vision

    Vail put Tony ORorke in charge of our City What’s their vision?

    Kirkwood is a ship with a hole in it’s side

  31. 4-mer-usmc says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Vail put Tony O’Rourke in charge of the City of South Lake Tahoe? I don’t think so—that was the previous City Council.

  32. Hang Ups From Way Back says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Yes Chief but it was owned by a family,Killebrews ran it better, personal, kinda like the same thing that happened when Harrah’s bought out the best casino on the hill, Harvey’s, now it’s just another joint.
    The quality went down, the people left for better pastures,stockholders doesn’t give a flying banana about customer care,comps,special things they do for the customer.
    Hell they be running Blue if wasn’t for torts ,monopolies laws,they only wanted Caesars in Vegas, screw the rest the company.
    Mark my words, Vail a selfish group people,they are not interested in anything other than the bottom line, profits.
    It’s been proven over and over again that privately owned business with the right chem brain power, will take care it’s customers, treat you better, than a ticket seat number.
    Hell they don’t even want pay taxes improve anything other than themselves here in town , couple 1000 for needy,here ,there, few awards for sorry ski kids.

    IF anyone read the papers over the years, where there other operation take place in the country you’ll be educated to their over powering BS that screws the other cities, towns.
    You’ll realize why certain groups have burned their lodges,made it a point to where they build chairs,where migrations of wild animals have traveled for centuries, they don’t give a rats about nothing but their investments and locals don’t count either.

  33. Steven says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Joe, I like your idea, connect The Heave to The Woody! Wahooo!
    Vail and its money can be nothing but great for Kirkwood. Maybe they will start with new chair pads on chair 6, those worn out decaying pads are a disgrace. And then high speed lifts on The Wall and Chair 4.
    Darn, should have bought that bank repo condo last week!

  34. Bob says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Without Vail SLT would be a bathroom stop on the way to Reno.

  35. Dogula says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    “doesn’t give a flying banana about customer care,comps,special things they do for the customer.”

    Gotta disagree here hangup. A corporation whose business is recreation IS DEPENDENT on customer care and service. And for a long time, Vail has been doing it better than anyone else. That is why they’re so successful.

  36. Dogula says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    The suspicion is growing in my mind that many of the people who hate Vail are unhappy because the old days of being allowed to ski free by your liftie buds are over, as are free beers afterward in the bar. Corporations, in order to make a profit, must cut out pillferage. And consequently, the free-wheeling ’70’s and ’80’s attitude of theft being an entitlement of ski area employment is gone.

  37. Lauren says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Awesome! Can’t wait to experience the vail touch at K’wood

  38. John says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    $18M? Am I the only one who thinks thats beer money for the CEO of Vail. Kirkwood must have been crashing quick.

  39. Chief Slowroller says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    $15.00 does not buy a burger and a soda

    $8.00 beer in the Cal Bar, you wonder why it’s Friday @ 4 with the Face Rats in the parking lot

    you could ask anyone that works at the Heave. and they will tell you Vail Sucks

  40. Chief Slowroller says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Yo Sarge Tony was the boss at Breckenridge
    before he got promoted to being the Boss at South Lake Tahoe

  41. admin says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    South Lake Tahoe City Manager Tony O’Rourke was the executive director at Beaver Creek — the community — not the ski resort before coming to Tahoe.

    Kathryn Reed, LTN publisher

  42. Jonathan Moore says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    if you really stop and think about it, there is only one thing to do, buy real estate! you can’t stop it, so you might as well get rich!

  43. Tahoclimbr says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    I agree that Tahoe needs small business, but big business will pave the way for small businesses. Big business will bring people to Tahoe (which we need to survive and be sustainable), then small business can start to grow. This is actually a good thing. Tahoe has so much potential, much like Boulder or Bend, but right now we can’t seem to get off the ground.

  44. Parker says - Posted: February 22, 2012

    Vail got a seemingly great deal for Kirkwood because Kirkwood is a mess! Great place to ski, but in a deep financial hole. It loses, not makes, money. And it urgently needs a massive investment in its infrastructure! Basically, the owners were willing to give it away to anyone who’d take it! Cohee & Co. had run Kirkwood into the ground!

    But give me a break all you people who love Vail Corp! They didn’t create Heavenly or its jobs! They give less to our town than previous owners did, our town sees less skiers since they bought Heavenly and Heavenly’s share of PAID ticket sales is lower than pre-Vail ownership. But if they can turn Kirkwood into a profitable entity, I will be impressed!

  45. Steve says - Posted: February 23, 2012

    For those who think lift tickets are expensive now, fasten your seat belts.

    And actually it was Hugh Killebrew who originally realized the importance of snowmaking and started installing it at Heavenly in the 70’s.

  46. Boone says - Posted: February 23, 2012

    All I can say is WOW! A dying resort is saved and many are up in arms! If you don’t like Vail buying resorts, get your check book out! If not, stop all the pity chatter. It’s not all about YOU! SLT should be so lucky to look like Vail Colorado and be able to get the same ADR’s! Shezz people.

  47. John says - Posted: February 23, 2012

    I just had no idea that Kirkwood was that close to the brink. $18 million. Wow.

    A lot of people on here may hate Vail, but with that kind of purchase price it pretty clear Kirkwood would have been a backcountry skiers resort in the very near future with no lifts spinning.

  48. stephen says - Posted: February 23, 2012

    Vail runs a first class operation. It’s expensive for day skiing, but the passes are an outstanding value. Stuff snacks in your pocket and go ski Heavenly, N’star, and now the Wood. I ski Vail one week a year on the same pass, and the staff and mountain management are top notch. Now, if they could just buy Mammoth…

  49. John says - Posted: February 23, 2012

    Jonathan, that is an awsome link. I have to go ski there.

  50. dogwoman says - Posted: February 24, 2012

    We used to ski Iron Mt. back in the day, twenty-odd years ago. It was a lot of fun, had some good pitch to it, but it WAS tiny. And a bit low in elevation to guarantee snow. But good times were had by all! And it was very affordable.
    Hmmmmm. Maybe that’s why they didn’t survive.