CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Tim and Diane Mueller were hailed as heroes when they arrived in Crested Butte as the new owners of the ski area in 2003. Crested Butte had been languishing for several years. The previous owners had lost interest in the ski area and were either unwilling or unable to invest money in upgrades. The consolidation that had swept the ski industry in the 1990s had also left Crested Butte, already more than four hours away from the nearest major population center, even more isolated.
The Muellers, with a successful history in New England, promised investment that would allow Crested Butte to thrive again, and planned anew to build both base-area real estate and create new intermediate-level ski trails.
Earlier this month, the couple announced the sale of a substantial share of their holdings at Crested Butte to a real-estate investment trust called CNL. The company also owns Northstar at Tahoe, Sierra at Tahoe, the Cooper Mountain base area village, and other properties.
The Muellers will continue to operate the ski area. Also, uninvolved in the sale is undeveloped property, although they are likely to sell that to CNL once the development occurs.
Tim Mueller told the Crested Butte News that the public mostly misunderstands the financing of operations at ski areas. It is the skiing that pulls the weight, he said, and not real estate.
“We want the real estate aspect of the business to be able to stand on its own, rather than be supported by ski operations, which is what is happening now — despite what everyone thinks,” he told the newspaper.
The Muellers said that CNL will provide financing for ski area improvements that banks might not. One immediate repercussion of this new, deeper pocket will be plans to go forward next summer with a new mid-mountain restaurant, to be called the Red Lady Lodge.
Tim Mueller said other enhancements, such as resort and retail operations, are more likely.
For development of residential real estate, however, the Muellers will still be on their own. However, they have always made the case that an improved bed base is needed at Crested Butte if the resort is to reach a critical mass of 500,000 to 600,000 skier days. The other part of the equation, they argue, is an expansion of the existing ski area onto Snodgrass Mountain, which would produce the intermediate terrain that is mostly lacking on existing ski runs.
The Muellers began looking to refinance Crested Butte soon after buying the property, and began discussions with CNL two years ago.