“We’re less interested in putting our money into new resorts than building up what we already have,” said Wade Martin, the CEO of Powdr Corp on Saturday, as he watched Mikaela Shiffrin flash down Superstar, on her way to earning third in the giant slalom event at the Killington HomeLight World Cup.
And, in fact, Powdr has invested huge sums in both Killington and Pico, as we reported in Killington Gets Extra Beast, last issue.
But just days later, on Dec. 3, Powdr Corp announced it was buying another ski area. Not Jay Peak, as some speculated – or any of the larger independents that seem like they might welcome a suitor. No, it was SilverStar, a ski area in British Columbia with 3,282 acres of skiable terrain, a 2,493 foot vertical drop, and annual snowfall of more than 23 feet.
While that last figure “23 feet of snowfall” might seem like the money number, that may not have been what attracted Powdr to buy this from Jane Cann and family, a private owner.
To date, Powdr has not followed the paths of Alterra Mountain Company or Vail Resorts in offering a branded, multi-destination pass. And while Killington Mountain Resort and many of Powdr’s 10 resorts (including Snowbird, Utah and Copper Mountain, Colo.) are part of Alterra’s Ikon Pass, a lift ticket at Killington isn’t good on its own at Snowbird in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon or at any other Powdr-owned resort.
So what was it about SilverStar, in British Columbia, that attracted Powdr? Was it the one-hour drive to the Kelowna International Airport, B.C. airport (the Kel-what? you ask)? Its mid-mountain village and slope-side lodging? Its developable land (not really, as the 30 acres of developable land remains with former owner Cann)?
What may have been the lynchpin for the deal is this: according to Powdr’s release, SilverStar’s Bike Park is ranked by the International Mountain Bike Association as one of the premier downhill mountain bike facilities in North America. Sound familiar, Killington Bike Park, with its 35 miles of lift-served singletrack?201920_silverstar-alpinemap_web
What makes Powdr different from Alterra or Vail Resorts is this: despite the fact that it owns 10 mountain resorts (from Mt. Bachelor, Ore. to Pico, Vermont) it doesn’t consider itself to be in the ski resort business. It’s in the “experience” business and those experiences —be they heliskiing or river rafting, mountain biking or ski racing, obstacle course racing or endurance trail running, are what Powdr seems to be fixated on. And with its growing brands such as Outside TV and its expanding family of Woodward action sports centers and camps, it has the youth market by the scruff of its neck and is helping it mainline adrenaline.
And with Wade Martin leading the company, it all starts to make sense.
Martin, a former collegiate tennis star who looks closer to 40 than to 50, was right at home as 19,000 people screamed and rang cowbells this past weekend at the Killington HomeLight World Cup. “It’s a great event, great crowd,” he said. And he should know. In 2003 Martin founded the Dew Tour, one of the most successful early action-sports tours. Before that, he worked on the Gravity Tour. The Dew Tour became part of Alli Sports, which became a division of the NBC Sports Group, which Martin also led before being drafted as Chief Revenue Officer at Powdr in 2013.
When Powdr president John Cumming (a mountaineering guide who founded both Powdr and Mountain Hardwear, with help from his father, Ian) stepped down in 2018, he anointed Martin and Justin Sibley co-presidents.
As Killington builds its new 58,000-square-foot base lodge and rebrands its bike park as a Woodward park, its snowboard park as Woodward and continues to build out offerings such as the WreckTangle and host events like the Spartan Race, you have to wonder if “Woodward” isn’t Powdr’s response to Vail Resort’s “Epic”—a way to brand its disparate properties, umm. I mean experiences. After all, its mission statement reads: “Deliver memorable experiences, enhance people’s lives and have fun doing it.
Martin gave no hint on Saturday as to what was coming next. But he looked like he was having fun.
Updated: An earlier version mistakenly said Shiffrin won the GS. She won the slalom.