By Eric Smith

Signs of the coming ski season are evident in many North American mountain towns, where fall foliage is peaking, snowmaking has begun at some resorts (with the real stuff also starting to fly) and a new crop of ski and snowboard films is hitting theaters.

Ski area operators are especially active these days, of course, but not only from fine-tuning their chairlifts and hiring seasonal staff. They have been busy expanding their empires.

The ski industry has seen rampant consolidation over the past few months, and September was another busy period for three of the major U.S. players. Last month saw Peak Resorts Inc. and Alterra Mountain Co. issue press releases on new additions to their portfolios while Vail Resorts Inc. closed on a previously announced acquisition.

These transactions add new terrain to each respective company’s pass products—the Peak Pass for Peak Resorts, the Ikon Pass for Alterra and the Epic Pass for Vail—and should give the operators a stronger presence in existing and new markets.

Whether they were acquiring properties or simply adding new resorts to their pass products, the largest ski operators in the U.S. also sparked much speculation about which local ski area will be the next to get bought. If the last few months are any indication, deals will continue to be announced until the lifts stop spinning next spring.

For SGB’s September M&A Roundup, here are some details about those ski industry M&A deals from the month, plus another notable acquisition in the active lifestyle space:

Peak Resorts To Acquire Snow Time for $76 Million

The 411 ­­– Peak Resorts Inc., which owns and operates 14 branded U.S. ski resorts, announced Monday that the company has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire privately held Snow Time Inc. for $76 million. Snow Time owns and operates three ski resorts in Pennsylvania: Liberty Mountain Resort, Whitetail Resort and Roundtop Mountain Resort. (Read much more about this deal in Behind The Deal: Peak Resorts Makes Strong Play with Snow Time Acquisition.)

Reaction – “The transformative acquisition of Snow Time offers a rare opportunity for Peak Resorts to dramatically grow our company by expanding the number of destinations for our Peak Pass holders in the Northeast while growing our presence in the very attractive and densely populated markets of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.”
— Timothy D. Boyd, president and CEO, Peak Resorts

What’s next? ­­– “With the Snow Time acquisition, Peak significantly strengthens its stronghold on the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast ski market,” analyst Brad Boyer of Stifel wrote in a note to investors. “Having grown up skiing in the Mid-Atlantic, we see several attractive revenue synergy opportunities resulting from this deal. Notably, it is not uncommon for a MD/DC skier to convenience ski at the Snow Time assets while taking an overnight/day trip excursion to Big Boulder/Jack Front Hunter or up into VT. As a result, we believe the Snow Time deal should significantly strengthen sales of the Peak Pass. Peak expects to have the resorts integrated into its pass program for the 2018-19 ski season.”

Alterra Mountain Acquires Crystal Mountain Resort

The 411 ­­– Alterra Mountain Co. announced that it has entered into an agreement to purchase Crystal Mountain Resort in Washington, which would bring the company’s total to 14 year-round mountain destinations throughout North America, including the world’s largest heli-skiing operation.

Reaction – “With the addition of Crystal Mountain Resort in Washington, we are able to expand our reach into the Pacific Northwest and offer our guests incredible experiences in the Cascade Mountains while also giving Crystal Mountain Resort skiers and riders the opportunity to explore all the other premier destinations on the Ikon Pass.”
Rusty Gregory, CEO, Alterra Mountain Co.

What’s next? ­­– “It has always been my goal to ensure Crystal Mountain Resort be taken the farthest in the shortest amount of time in order to keep Crystal at the top of Northwest skiing,” said John Kircher, owner of Crystal Mountain Resort. “Alterra Mountain Company is able to offer a depth of experience and resources as well as inclusion on the Ikon Pass with its outstanding destinations throughout the world. The mountain sports business has changed more in the last year than I have seen it change in my entire 40-year career, and I am excited to see what lies ahead.”

Vail Resorts Closes its Acquisition of 3 Resorts

The 411 ­­– Vail Resorts Inc. announced that it has closed on the acquisition of Triple Peaks LLC, the parent company of Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, Mount Sunapee Resort in New Hampshire and Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado.

Reaction – “We are thrilled to offer pass holders even more one-of-a-kind experiences in the northeast and in Colorado with the addition of Okemo, Mount Sunapee and Crested Butte to our network of world-class resorts. Unlimited, unrestricted access to these resorts through the Epic Pass, Epic Local and Military Epic Pass, as well as access on the Epic 4 Day and Epic 7 Day, will be a tremendous benefit to skiers and snowboarders.”
—Kirsten Lynch, CMO, Vail Resorts Inc.

What’s next? ­­– “On the heels of the four recently announced acquisitions, coupled with the presence of another well-capitalized destination resort operator looking to grow through M&A, we have a difficult time mapping out a path to meaningful incremental inorganic growth opportunities in the near term,” analyst Steven Wieczynski of Stifel wrote in a note to investors. “With all of that said, while we acknowledge Vail has built one of the most compelling and defensible growth stories in all of consumer, we would prefer to throw our support behind the shares at levels that allow us to formulate a target price underpinned by a more palatable underlying valuation.”

JackRabbit Acquires Rhythm Running, to Open Two Stores

The 411 ­­– Back in expansion mode, JackRabbit announced it has completed the acquisition of Nashville-based Rhythm Running. In addition, the company is opening two new stores in Houston, TX, and Tampa, FL.

Reaction – “We are excited to have the opportunity to acquire Rhythm Running and enter the vibrant Nashville market. We could not be happier to have them join our JackRabbit team. We are also excited to expand our footprint in Texas with our new store opening in Houston and our entry into the State of Florida.”
—Bill Kirkendall, CEO, JackRabbit

What’s next? ­­– JackRabbit is currently operating 62 stores in 18 states along with the company’s e-commerce platform jackrabbit.com. The addition of Houston, TX, expands the JackRabbit footprint in the state of Texas to 12 stores. “Our multi-channel platform is having a positive impact on all parts of our business,” Kirkendall added. “We are committed to the continued growth of the JackRabbit store base and digital platform with the full support of our employees, management team and shareholders at CriticalPoint Capital.

**Other deals from last month. In case you missed it, here are other notable deals that occurred in the relatively slow month of September (click the headline to read the full story on each):

Founder Sport Group to Acquire Teamwork Athletic Apparel

GSM Acquires CoyoteLight

Upventur Completes Yonder Acquisition, Expansion in Outdoor Market

Velocity Outdoor Acquires Ravin Crossbows

Photo courtesy Peak Resorts

Eric Smith is Senior Business Editor at SGB Media. Reach him at eric@sgbonline.com or 303-578-7008. Follow on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.