Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed out

The family jewels

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Whistler-Blackcomb, is a very valuable asset, both to Intrawest and to Almighty Fortress. It is even more valuable to all of us. We are family.

Whistler-Blackcomb was, for years, Intrawest’s cash cow, giving nourishment and succor to its subsidiary brothers and sisters, downstream and up. I’m certain it has continued to play that role for Fortress but having gone private, I can’t cite chapter and verse on its actual financial performance and I’m not interested in fueling the kind of speculation I’ve been hearing about its cash flow and return on capital. Let’s just say in the Intrawest world, Whistler-Blackcomb is the team’s MVP.

So let’s play one of my father’s favourite games: What if? What if current global financial conditions make it impossible for Fortress to renegotiate Intrawest’s debt? What if it seeks the protection of Chapter 11? What if its reorganization results in the need to sell off assets? What if Whistler-Blackcomb is one of those assets?

Ski resorts aren’t like factories. They don’t get dismantled and have their parts sold off to other manufacturers. Their only value is as a going concern. The Peak 2 Peak gondola isn’t worth $53 million as either scrap or an amusement ride somewhere else. Someone buys ski resorts to run them.

Who would buy Whistler-Blackcomb?

How about us? You and me? Your neighbour and mine? The people who own property here, the people who wish they owned property here, the people who love to ski, bike, golf, hike and simply be here?

One hundred and twenty miles north of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lake Michigan dips into a little backwater bay — Green Bay. The town of Green Bay is, let’s be generous here, unexciting. Other than the National Railroad Museum, there’s only one reason to go to Green Bay, the Green Bay Packers. The Packers are one of the most storied franchises in the National Football League. Ever wonder why they’re in Green Bay? Ever wonder how a town of 100,000 — the smallest TV market in all of major league sports — manages to hang on to such a valuable franchise?

The answer to the first question is history. The Packers were founded in 1919 when the country was smaller and Green Bay was a meatpacking hub. The answer to the second question is unique in all sportsdom. The Packers have 112,088 owners! None of them have control. A majority would have to agree to sell the franchise to another city. Hell’ll freeze over first.