Mtn Jack Affleck
Source: Jack Affleck, Vail Resorts.

With summer having come to an official close earlier this week, many people dread the possibility of another harsh winter ahead. But for ski resort operator Vail Resorts (NYSE:MTN), winter is the best time of year. The company reported fiscal fourth-quarter results this morning that included its typical seasonal loss, and Vail Resorts didn't quite live up to expectations for its full 2014 fiscal year as far as earnings were concerned. But with the purchase of Park City Mountain Resort, Vail Resorts has eliminated a huge source of uncertainty that should help it achieve better results over the coming year, and shareholders this morning were willing to look past near-term challenges to embrace that vision of the future.

Vail Resorts by the numbers

Vail Resorts spent almost no time on its fourth-quarter numbers, given that the late spring and early summer are traditionally such poor performers for the company. Revenue of $135.5 million was well above what investors had expected to see, with the company adding zip lines and ropes courses at some of its Colorado properties. But that didn't keep the company from reporting a $75 million loss, which equated to $2.08 per share. That was worse even than most had projected, although a one-time provision for paying off some of its debt contributed somewhat to Vail Resorts' losses.

Mtn Jack Affleck
Source: Jack Affleck, Vail Resorts.

From a full-year perspective -- which gives the most valuable information on the health of the seasonal business -- Vail Resorts made the most of favorable conditions over the past year. Operating income for its resort segment, which includes both mountain operations and associated lodging facilities, climbed 11.6% compared to fiscal 2013. CEO Rob Katz noted that a long and prosperous ski season in Colorado helped produce record levels of revenue and operating income, with especially strong conditions during the Spring Break period and late in the season. Poor conditions in the Lake Tahoe region held back Vail's results, but overall, gains of 10% in skier visits, a 20% jump in season pass revenue, and lodging sales gains of nearly 15% all boded well for the year.

The future looks brighter for Vail Resorts

Despite its sluggish summer performance, Vail Resorts is already painting a strong picture for the coming fiscal year. As of mid-September, the number of season passes sold for the 2014-15 ski season was up 14% compared to this time last year, and dollar revenue from those sales climbed an even stronger 18%. As a result, Vail Resorts anticipates operating income from its resort businesses to be between $340 million and $360 million in fiscal 2015, which would represent gains of between a quarter and a third from fiscal 2014 levels.

Mtn Jack Affleck
Source: Jack Affleck, Vail Resorts.

The brightest spot in Vail Resorts' future, though, is the recent acquisition of Park City Mountain Resort. As Stock Advisor analyst Jim Mueller explained two weeks ago when the deal was announced, a long dispute with the previous operator of what many see as Utah's premier ski area had left Vail Resorts facing substantial uncertainty, as its lease in Park City covered only the mountain-area ski runs and left the lodging and parking facilities at the base of the mountain beyond Vail's control. With Vail Resorts having agreed to pay $182.5 million to acquire the rest of the property and resolve the dispute, it now expects an extra $35 million of operating earnings from Park City over the coming year. Moreover, now that Vail Resorts has full control over the area, it can also connect it to its nearby Canyons property to give customers even more value.

Investors appear equally enthusiastic about Vail Resorts' future, with the stock climbing more than 3% in premarket trading after the report and setting the stage for potential new all-time highs. With memories of last winter leading more skiers to seek out Vail Resorts passes, the company has a huge opportunity to deliver a high-quality experience to its customer base -- as long as Mother Nature cooperates.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Vail Resorts. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.