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Vail Resorts Buys Another Ski Area, This Time Near Chicago

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Vail Resorts just announced that it has acquired Wilmot Mountain, a ski area in Wisconsin that's located approximately 65 miles north of Chicago, Illinois. The purchase is Vail Resorts' third "urban" ski area, meaning a resort that is close to metropolitan areas and not known for its hard-core terrain. The company also owns Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mt. Brighton in Michigan, all in an attempt to capture some of the lucrative midwestern ski market and encourage travel between Vail Resorts' 12 properties. This marks Vail Resorts' third acquisition since September 2014 when Vail bought Park City Mountain Resort for $182.5 million. Last March, Vail also bought Australia's largest ski area, Perisher. And while the terms of this most recent acquisition were not disclosed, this purchase proves that the ski industry's biggest player isn't slowing down any time soon.

Skiers used to riding big-mountain terrain in Colorado, Utah, British Columbia, or Montana may not quite understand why Vail Resorts bought tiny Wilmot Mountain. According to a Vail Resorts' press release, Wilmot Mountain offers "25 trails, four terrain parks, a ski and snowboard school, a ski racing program and a tubing hill with 23 lanes." That same release fails to mention that Wilmot relies heavily on man-made snow, has a paltry vertical drop of less than 300 feet, and only 120 acres of total skiing according to On the Snow. The hill does boast night skiing, which seems to be popular with skiers commuting from Chicago and Milwaukee.

What makes Wilmot Mountain attractive to a ski industry juggernaut like Vail Resorts is the ski area's proximity to metropolitan areas. The Chicago area is estimated to have approximately 800,000 skiers and Vail wants all of them to ski and ride at Vail Resorts-owned properties. Vail Resorts announced that Wilmot will be included in the company's Epic Pass and Epic Local Pass programs for the 2016-2017 ski season, which means Chicago-area skiers will now have access to the what is arguably the most successful season pass program in the snow world. For around $769, Epic Pass holders get to ski not only at their home mountain, but also at Vail's other mountains including Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Park City, Heavenly, and Northstar. As Vail Resorts has learned from its investment in its Minnesota and Michigan ski areas, encouraging midwestern skiers to take vacations in Colorado, Utah, or Tahoe can pay off big for the company.

According to their announcement, Vail Resorts plans to invest in Wilmot Mountain's skiing and base facilities. Skiers can expect redesigned terrain parks, better snowmaking, more parking, an improved ski school, expanded dining services, and better technology and social media programs like the EpicMix. Specific plans will be available in March.