The never-dull saga that has been the Utah ski resort industry in 2014 continues. In the latest salvo, Deer Valley announced on Friday that it had entered an agreement to buy Solitude Ski Resort in neighboring Big Cottonwood Canyon. Terms of the sale were not disclosed. Solitude plans to operate as normal this winter, under the DeSeelhorst family, which has owned the resort since the 70s. Deer Valley will take over operations on May 1, 2015.
Bob Wheaton, General Manager of Deer Valley, says the resort will have select staff working alongside Solitude staff this season to analyze the resort's operation, and select Solitude staff will work in Deer Valley. Any decisions of lift ticket and pass pricing at Solitude will be made after that analysis is complete. The only change for the coming season is that pass holders at both resorts will now have four days at the other resort, subject to holiday blackouts.
"Deer Valley recognizes Solitude's unique position in both the local and destination markets and acknowledges that we have much to learn about the current operation and brand position," a press release announcing the purchase says. Solitude will continue to allow snowboarding, and the SolBright connection with Brighton will remain open.
The Solitude purchase punctuates a busy year for Utah's resort industry. Vail Resorts, operators of Canyons, recently purchased Park City Mountain Resort, finally ending a lengthy and bitter lawsuit between the two entities. In the midst of that squabble, Ian Cummings, owner of Powdr Corp, which until recently owned PCMR, bought a majority stake in Snowbird.
The Deer Valley-Solitude deal also comes less than two months after Solitude almost sold to Boyne Resorts, owners of neighboring Brighton Resort. In that situation, Solitude had agreed in principal to sell, but the financing fell through at the 11th hour.
Speculation in the media, both social and otherwise, is that this deal is another step closer to One Wasatch, the seven-resort interconnect idea Ski Utah re-announced last spring. Deer Valley, however, is not a link in that concept. The connection from Park City to Big Cottonwood in the current alignment goes from Park City Mountain Resort to Brighton. Deer Valley has stated that they support that alignment.
"One of the questions that almost everybody I've talked to since Friday has asked is: Are you going to connect Solitude and Deer Valley," says Wheaton. "The bottom line is, you can't get there from here, directly."
The aspect of One Wasatch that Deer Valley does control now is a lift at Solitude from the top of the Summit Chair up Fantasy Ridge—the ridge dividing Solitude from Little Cottonwood Canyon. Wheaton said he couldn't speculate on a time frame for when that might happen. "I'd be really premature to comment on that right now," Wheaton says. "With the deal we have, we don't actually take possession of Solitude until April 30 of 2015. That gives us at Deer Valley the whole season to watch how Solitude is being operated, and vice versa… and also to take a look at what we think the next logical step is for Solitude, and for Deer Valley."
The purchase of Solitude marks a first for Deer Valley, a privately owned resort that operates on private land. While he wouldn't rule out future acquisitions, Wheaton said that Solitude presented a unique set of circumstances. "We've been looking at additional opportunities for at least 10 or 12 year now," Wheaton says. "We've looked at other resorts up in Idaho, in Wyoming, and certainly other resorts in Utah. But this is the first time where everything really seemed to come together. The attributes of both resorts really seem to fit well."
Despite the failed bid to buy Solitude by Brighton's parent company, Wheaton says two resorts will continue to work together. "The relationship is very strong," Wheaton says. "Randy [Doyle, General Manager at Brighton] and I talked this morning. Randy and I have been good friends for 35 years. We don't anticipate any changes as far as the relationship between Solitude and Brighton."
Deer Valley is a limited partnership owned by the family of Edgar Stern, who founded the resort in 1981 and Roger Penske.