Vail Resorts Earnings: 3 Things to Watch

Vail Resorts (NYSE: MTN), the owner of a dozen mountain properties spread across the U.S., Australia, and Canada, is set to announce fiscal fourth-quarter results on Friday, Sept. 28. The reporting period includes the summer months in its core Rocky Mountain territories, and so revenue and profit figures will both be dampened by a sharp seasonal dip in ski vacations.

Still, there's plenty for investors to look forward to hearing in this report. Vail should provide important updates on the progress of its capital improvement plans and its summer season growth initiatives. The company should reveal updated numbers for advance season pass sales for the 2018/2019 ski season ahead, too.

Let's take a closer look at these key trends.

Solid sales momentum

Snow levels around its Utah, Colorado, and California resorts were extremely weak to start off the season, but Vail Resorts thrived through the winter anyway. Investors can thank the company's aggressive expansion strategy for that success. Its larger footprint has made the business much less sensitive to regional weather slumps, and that's the main reason why CEO Rob Katz and his executive team are projecting adjusted earnings of between $612 million and $622 million this fiscal year, up from $593 million last year despite the challenging snowfall totals.

"Our [2018 ski season] performance demonstrates the resiliency of our business model [and] the stability provided by our geographically diverse resort network," Katz told investors back in early June. Since then, the company added to that diversity by acquiring the Stevens Pass Resort in Washington.

Summer traffic and spending strategies

The summer months are a slow time for the company, when quarterly revenue drops to around $200 million from $800 million in peak months. Yet investors will find out on Friday just how well the company did at attracting visitors to its resorts in warmer weather through attractions like zip lines, hiking trails, water parks, and alpine coasters. Vail needs to pay significant fixed costs to operate its properties in these seasonally slow periods, and so more consistent usage during the year is important, since it would smooth out results while boosting overall revenue and profits.

Management is also using the downtime to make major upgrades to its resorts, especially the recently acquired Whistler Blackcomb. Huge new ski lift investments are a key way that the company can improve the vacation experience of its visitors so that lodging, skiing, and restaurant demand stays strong even at rising prices.

Katz and his team should provide details on these capital improvements that have pushed Vail's annual spending plans to new highs.

Season pass sales

Season pass selling trends are critical to Vail's operating results. They describe overall vacation demand and, by watching average selling prices, investors can also tell whether the company is succeeding at lifting the value of its resort packages.

There are two pieces of good news on this score that together help explain why investors are so bullish about Vail's business these days. First, the company is booking a higher proportion of its season passes and securing a bigger chunk of its expected revenue earlier in the year. Second, its volume and pricing trends are robust, with unit sales up 12% through June and overall revenue up 19% thanks to rising prices.

Katz and his team will update those key figures on Friday as the company looks ahead to what should mark another record operating year for the global resort giant.

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