UPDATE 2-Vail Resorts Q2 profit lags; says skier visits up

Wed Mar 10, 2010 11:28am EST

* Q2 EPS $1.11 vs. est $1.13

* Says meeting top end of prior view "challenging"

* Shrs up 7 pct (Recasts; adds details, analyst comment, updates stock movement)

BANGALORE, March 10 (Reuters) - Mountain resort operator Vail Resorts Inc (MTN.N) said visits to its ski resorts were improving, after a slow start to the season that will cause the company to miss the top end of its previously issued profit forecast.

Shares of the company rose as much as 7 percent in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange, before paring some gains to trade up 6 percent at $39.50.

Total skier visits through March 7 were up 0.4 percent compared with the year-ago period, reflecting improved visitation as the year has progressed, the company said in a statement.

The last time the company reported numbers for the current ski season, it said total skier visits through Jan. 6 were down 2.7 percent due to below-average snowfall.

"The season did indeed begin slowly in Colorado, but recent snowfall and very easy February and March comparisons (the two peak months of the season) should make current guidance easily achievable," JMP Securities analyst William Marks said in a note to clients.

The number of skiers visiting the company's resorts in Colorado in the second quarter ended Jan. 31, which excludes its Heavenly Mountain Resort, fell 1.6 percent, due to weak snowfall early in the season.

However, including the resort that straddles the California-Nevada border, total visits in the quarter were up 0.1 percent.

"Visits were up ... owing to Heavenly, the mountain everyone forgets they own!" Rochdale Securities analyst Hayley Wolff said in an email.

For the second quarter, the company posted a net income of $40.7 million, or $1.11 cents a share, down from a profit of $60.5 million, or $1.65 cents, last year.

Analysts on average were expecting the company to earn $1.13 a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue at the company, which operates five high-end skiing resorts, fell nearly 23 percent to $300.5 million, as revenue from real estate segment fell to $870,00 from $89.2 million last year.

Revenue in the real estate segment depends on timing of closings and the mix of real estate sold in any given period.

Lift ticket revenue in the company's mountain segment, which operates high-end ski resorts, rose 1.9 percent, driven by a 6.2 percent increase in season pass revenue. (Reporting by Abhishek Takle in Bangalore; Editing by Unnikrishnan Nair)