Image source: Vail Resorts.

Winter is just a distant memory for residents of the Northern Hemisphere, but investors in ski resort company Vail Resorts (NYSE:MTN) have waited with anticipation to see how the late-winter months treated the company's key winter business. With the vast majority of its properties seeing their high season in the December to March time frame, Vail Resorts gets a huge portion of its annual revenue and earnings at this time of year. Coming into Thursday's fiscal third-quarter financial report, Vail Resorts investors were expecting to see sizable growth in revenue and earnings, and the company did a good job of delivering on both fronts. Let's look more closely at what Vail Resorts said about the quarter and what lies ahead for next year's ski season.

Vail Resorts enjoys the winter wonderland

Vail Resorts' fiscal third-quarter results were roughly in line with the expectations that investors had for the ski resort operator. Revenue climbed 12% to $647.5 million, which was only slightly less than the $653 million consensus forecast among those following the stock. Net income jumped at a faster pace of 18% to $157.6 million, and that produced earnings of $4.23 per share. The figure was $0.03 per share better than investors had expected, even after having raised their expectations gradually over the past few months.

Taking a closer look at how Vail Resorts performed, the mountain segment saw some of the most impressive gains. Overall lift revenue climbed 17%, with day-pass and other immediate lift-ticket sales outpacing growth in season pass revenue slightly. Ski school sales were up 12%, and dining climbed 16% due to new restaurants and upgrades in Park City as well as overall strength at Vail's Colorado and Tahoe properties. Retail and rental revenue climbed 12% on strong store performance, and operating expenses gains remained in check to support a solid increase in pre-tax operating income.

As we've seen in past quarters, Vail's lodging segment didn't grow as quickly as the mountain segment, but it still did well. Net revenue was up almost 8%, with occupancy rates rising two percentage points and revenue per available room climbing by 7%. EBITDA for the segment jumped by nearly a quarter. Meanwhile, the real estate segment continued to weigh on Vail's overall results, with an 86% drop in net revenue leaving the division with just $1.7 million in sales.

CEO Rob Katz put an encouraging spin on how Vail Resorts did. In Katz's words, "Our results continued to demonstrate the strength of our season pass products, the momentum we have created by drawing destination guests to our resorts through more sophisticated market efforts, and the benefit from good conditions throughout the season in each of our western resort areas." International visits did fall slightly, but much better conditions in Tahoe in particular helped to support overall gains across the company's resort network.

Can Vail Resorts keep up the pace?

Vail Resorts boosted its guidance for the full fiscal year in response to its quarterly performance. The resort operator now expects resort-reported EBITDA of $448 million to $454 million, which is 2% to 4% higher than its previous guidance range.

Yet perhaps the most encouraging sign came from Vail Resorts' discussion of early season pass sales results for the 2016-17 season. Vail said that pass sales through May 31 are up by more than a third in dollar terms and almost 30% in terms of number of passes sold, reflecting the better winter conditions over the past year. Northern California was particularly strong, but Vail also saw good results in Colorado. The integration of Wisconsin's Wilmot Mountain is a particularly big draw for Chicago-area skiers, with the opportunity to buy networkwide passes that open the door to Vail Resorts' western properties as well. Katz warned that the pace of growth indicated by early sales won't hold up fully in future months, but the results to point to the success of marketing efforts to get past pass buyers to come back.

Vail Resorts stock trades near its all-time record levels, and more favorable news could easily send share prices further into unprecedented territory. If things keep going as well as they have for the resort operator, Vail Resorts could give investors more long-term gains over time.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.