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Mountain News: Who will take reins of the ski area?



MT. CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Is Intrawest soon to take the reins of operation at Crested Butte Mountain Resort?

That has been the rumour since last spring, and this past week the current managers — the Mueller family — told ski area employees that they have been talking with someone. They named no names, however.

Tim and Diane Mueller bought the ski area in 2004 and were welcomed with open arms by the local community. It was hoped they could provide new energy and investment that had been lacking under the previous ownership, and it has worked out that way.

But Crested Butte, because of its remoteness — it's four and a half hours from Denver, and with a relatively small ski area — is a rough sell compared to the megaresorts of I-70.

The official owner is now CNL Lifestyle Properties, a real-estate investment trust that has more than a dozen ski resorts in its portfolio. In effect, CNL is the financier. The Muellers are the managers. Through their Triple Peaks LLC, the family also owns a sizable chunk of real estate in areas adjacent to the ski area. Before the recession, some lots were going for $700,000 to $800,000.

The Muellers tell the Crested Butte News that they were approached about the land earlier this year, and the talks have grown to include the ski area. Letters of intent and non-disclosure agreements were signed this fall. The deal is expected to be finalized yet before December.

What if Intrawest gets the keys to the ski area? Why would it make sense? Founded in 1976 as a real-estate company in Vancouver, the company in 1986 expanded to operate Blackcomb and many other ski areas across North America.

Then, it was sold in a heavily leveraged deal to Fortress, a hedge-fund manager, just before the Great Recession. The deal had assumed continued rapid sales of high-priced real estate. When that market vanished, Intrawest was forced to spin off assets: Copper Mountain in Colorado, Panorama in British Columbia and a number of other assets.

Today, Intrawest retains ownership of Stratton and Mont Tremblant, two other ski areas in the East, Canadian Mountain Holidays in Alberta, and Steamboat in Colorado, where it also manages Winter Park for Denver, the owner.

What would Crested Butte add to the mix? Synergy, possibly. Vail's Epic Pass is a formidable marketing proposition. Other ski areas have been forced to lower their season prices and band together to deliver competing passes, such as that of the Mountain Collective.

A pass that aligned Steamboat, Winter Park and Crested Butte might be more appealing.

Intrawest recently announced plans to go public again. Combing the company's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Steamboat Pilot reported that they contained "plain signals that the company... would like to be in acquisition mode."

Among the statements was this: "As a multi-resort operator, we believe we are well positioned to take advantage of economies of scale in administration, purchasing power and access to capital and leverage our ability to offer multi-resort products. In addition, we intend to evaluate 'capital light' opportunities such as managing third-party resort assets and entering into real estate development partnerships."

That sure sounds like Crested Butte, but it's all speculation at this point, like who will win the next Stanley Cup.

It's a familiar story, again

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Despite adding a ton of affordable housing in recent years, beds are scarce this season for seasonal workers in Telluride.

"The reason for the shortage? I simply don't know," Shirley Diaz, executive director of the San Miguel County Regional Housing Authority, said. She told The Telluride Watch that she at first suspected that the ski area operator had ramped up its employment, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

Miner worked hard and loved mountains

OURAY, Colo. — The news out of Ouray a year ago was upbeat. This one-time mining town would get resumed mining this year at the Revenue-Virginius Mine. Last week, that good news turned dark as carbon monoxide poisoning laid down two miners.

One of the dead miners was Rick Williams, the shift supervisor, and The Telluride Watch explains that he had grown up in and around Silverton and then worked at the local Sunnyside Mine until it shut down in the early 1990s. He then created a renovations company before the opportunity arose to return underground.

"He was a hard-working person who did what he needed to do to make a living for his family," said his wife, Judy Williams. "He loved what he did. He loved the mountains."