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Ski business is different, 'It takes a community'



FRISCO, Colo. - Intrawest's announcement last week that it has reached an agreement to sell Copper Mountain to Powdr Corp. has others trying to read the tea leaves.

Bill Jensen, the Intrawest chief executive, openly admitted to the need to sell a property. But, in an interview with the Summit Daily News last April, he said, "Copper is not one we want to sell."

Jensen also noted that the real estate assets at the base of the ski area had dramatically dropped in value.

Taking stock of the sale in an interview with the Aspen Daily News was Mike Kaplan, the chief executive of the Aspen Skiing Co. He noted that in the late 1990s four giant ski companies had emerged - Intrawest, but also Vail Resorts, Booth Creek, and American Skiing - with overt plans to expand.

But of the four, only Vail Resorts has continued to grow. American Skiing disappeared altogether, and Booth Creek remains small.

"And so I think it tells you that this business is different, as we've always known," Kaplan told the Daily News. "It really is 'of the community,' and that is one of the things we try and focus on (in the Aspen community). There is an inherent tension here, but it takes a community to offer a vacation experience.

"And when you are owned by a bigger conglomerate, in a mountain town anyway, that's tough. Because residents of places like this - and while Aspen is different, it's not that different - are independent thinkers and people who like to enjoy the mountains and have strong opinions and feelings about those mountains and the business you are running. And that can make it difficult to be part of a large organization with shareholder needs and other issues."

Aspen Skiing for the last 15 years has been owned by the Crown family of Chicago - into which Kaplan married. He maintains that long-term private ownership gives Aspen an inherent long-term perspective that allows Aspen to operate with a wiser perspective; something not allowed many other resorts.

He specifically cited Steamboat, which has been owned by American Skiing and Intrawest.

The Copper sales price was not divulged, and is not likely to be in the immediate future, because both companies are privately held. Jerry Jones, a long-time ski industry veteran, speculated that the price was around $100 million.

The Summit Daily notes that with the real estate market continuing to be in the doldrums, the challenge for Powdr Corp. will be to compete with Vail Resorts for skiers. Vail has four ski areas in close proximity to Copper Mountain.