Last November, just as the upcoming 2004/2005 ski season began gearing up, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at Vail Resorts (NYSE:MTN). Out of sheer curiosity -- I am by no means a chartist -- I decided to review the past performance of the stock in the period leading up to the critical third quarter, which includes the peak ski months of February, March, and April. After seeing that Vail did indeed exhibit a pattern of rising sharply as that time approached each year, I wondered whether the stock was poised to heat up.

Sure enough, Vail has flashed its lift ticket once again and taken shareholders along for another ride. Unlike previous years, though, when the stock then raced downhill after ski season ended, it has continued to climb higher. Yesterday, the shares reached a multiyear summit of $27.90 -- nearly 80% above where they traded this time last year. This morning, the company validated some of that optimism when it revealed fairly impressive third-quarter results.

Driven by double-digit gains in all three core segments -- mountain, lodging, and real estate -- total revenues jumped 13.5% to $327.5 million. A one-time asset impairment charge weighed on net income, which fell modestly lower, but total EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) generated from the company's resorts increased 15% to $138 million.

Powering those improvements were crowded lift lines, as skiers flocked to Vail's top-tier resorts in droves. Four of its five resorts had more than 1 million skiers and snowboarders swooshing down the slopes during the season, and both Beaver Creek and Heavenly (at 20 square miles, the nation's largest ski resort) reported record customers for the third straight year. Overall, 8.5% more people hit Vail's trails during the quarter, to go along with a 3.6% rise in average lift ticket prices.

Meanwhile, North America's largest ski resort operator, Canadian-based Intrawest (NYSE:IDR), suffered through the worst winter weather British Columbia has seen in 40 years. The firm, which operates 10 winter playgrounds, including well-known names such as Whistler Blackcomb, Snowshoe, W.Va., and Winter Park, Colo., posted a drop in mountain resort revenues (before currency fluctuation), led by a disappointing 16% decline in British Columbia.

Aside from the firm's core ski resorts, Vail also has a growing real estate development business. As might be imagined, mountain real estate does not come cheap; last quarter the firm closed on 114 parking spots in a new garage at Vail Village at a whopping $100,000 per space. Before that, it was flooded with 573 applications -- each with a $100,000 deposit check -- for just 67 available condominiums at the new Arrabelle complex at Vail Square. Next up, the firm is in talks with Marriott's (NYSE:MAR) Ritz-Carlton to manage the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Vail, a high-end complex of 108 luxury condos and related amenities.

Things are looking up at Vail, enough so for management to raise its full-year earnings forecast. Still, given the lofty heights this stock has ascended to, one hidden mogul might lead to a steep tumble.

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Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter is anxiously awaiting Louisiana's first snow skiing resort. He owns none of the companies mentioned.