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Vail Resorts Earnings Preview: 2 Things to Watch

By Demitri Kalogeropoulos – Sep 19, 2021 at 9:15AM

Key Points

  • Season pass prices are dropping, but volume is up.
  • Look for a potentially big change to Vail's seasonal outlook now that major mountain openings are just a few weeks away.

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The ski resort giant announces its updated season forecast on Thursday.

Vail Resorts (MTN -1.57%) investors are in for a potentially volatile trading week ahead. The ski resort giant will announce its fiscal fourth-quarter and full-year results after the markets close on Thursday, Sept. 23.

And while Vail management will be sharing fiscal data from a seasonally low period for most of the company's properties, management will also answer some big questions about the business this week, including season pass sales and guest bookings heading into Vail Resorts biggest months of the year.

Let's dive right in and look at two things worth keeping an eye on.

A skier descending a mountain.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Season pass trends

Vail's last report in early June contained hopeful signs of an epic rebound on the way in the resort business. Season pass sales for the upcoming winter were up 33% compared to two years ago before the pandemic struck. We'll get an update on that core growth trend on Thursday.

Two big question marks are clouding that bullish sales outlook. The first is pricing. Average prices for season passes were down significantly in Q3, and the company offered more discounts through an early September sale. This week's report will show how deeply Vail had to cut prices to convince vacationers to commit to its passes at a time when COVID-19 restrictions were rising.

Its Whistler Blackcomb resort in Canada, for example, hasn't been easily accessible to U.S. visitors given border restrictions. We'll find out this week if Vail's pricing strategy is overcoming challenges like that and paving the way for a busy holiday season for its restaurants, ski schools, and hospitality services.

2. The new outlook

Vail's initial outlook for the coming season called for net income to land between $93 million and $139 million, compared to $109 million last year and $323 million in 2019. There were several big assumptions attached to that outlook, though, including normal weather conditions, no increase in travel or capacity restrictions tied to COVID-19 outbreaks, and stable vacation demand through the fall season.

Vail won't have any more clarity this week about how winter weather will impact its mountain reopening plans that kick off in October. But there's plenty of fresh data on season pass trends and resort stay bookings. Look for incoming CEO Kristen Lynch (currently chief marketing officer), who officially takes over the top management position on Nov. 1, to comment on those factors as Vail updates its outlook.

It's likely to be an unusually volatile period ahead for shareholders since there is a wide range of possible operating results in late 2021 and early 2022. On the bright side, Vail could see a huge growth surge supported by a hot economy and high demand for outdoor activities and other discretionary services. Yet that rebound might be complicated by the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic that threatens to make travel and resort stays more difficult for guests.

Thursday's report will give investors big hints about which path Vail Resorts is on as it prepares to start welcoming skiers back to its Colorado properties in late October. But it won't be until the start of the holiday season (around mid-November) that shareholders will have a good grasp on the scope of Vail's growth rebound following pandemic closures in 2020 and early 2021.

Demitri Kalogeropoulos has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Vail Resorts. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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