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Whistler Blackcomb unlikely for sale: Brownlie

But Intrawest examines selling other assets to reduce $1.7 billion debt

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By Claire Piech and Clare Ogilvie

As Intrawest ULC scrutinizes all assets in an attempt to reduce $1.7 of debt, the president and chief operating officer of Whistler Blackcomb said it is unlikely the number one ski resort in North America will be sold.

"I certainly can't comment on Intrawest and Fortress, but I can say that Whistler Blackcomb is seen as a core asset to the success of Intrawest," said Dave Brownlie on Tuesday afternoon.

"As a result, I am very confident that Whistler Blackcomb is not up for sale at this time."

Mountain resorts across North American are buzzing with rumours about which assets Intrawest might sell after CEO Bill Jensen told a Colorado newspaper last week that the company was looking at "all options to reduce our debt."

Jensen told Summit Daily News that Intrawest also does not want to sell Copper Mountain, but he said the company may finance some of its businesses independently, including assets in Quebec. Mont Tremblant is Intrawest's only Quebec resort.

Intrawest's spokesperson Ian Galbraith declined to elaborate this week.

"There are a lot of rumours and speculation in the market, so we are not commenting on it at this time," said Galbraith.

"At Whistler Blackcomb, our core focus is the winter experience."

Intrawest has been hit hard by the economic recession, with fewer ski visits and a tough real estate market. In Whistler alone, skier visits were down 15 to 16 per cent, which Brownlie said "has a revenue impact on the organization and ultimately on Intrawest."

As a result, all of Intrawest's salaried, year-round employees had their wages rolled back to July 2008 levels, said Brownlie, and the company incentives won't be paid until business picks up.

Intrawest owns 10 ski resorts and one golf resort across North America. All its resorts are involved in real estate.

Future of Fortress also uncertain

Intrawest's owner, New York-based Fortress Investment Group, has also graced the headlines a lot lately. Fortress bought Intrawest in 2006 for $1.8 billion, including more than $1 billion in debt.

Last October, the $1.7 billion loan to buy Intrawest came due in the midst of the market turmoil, leaving Fortress investors scrambling to refinance the loan. And later that year, the investment group bought out of Vancouver's Olympic Village as construction costs rose and fears mounted about the real estate market.

Analyst Jackson Turner, with New York based Argus Research Company, told Pique Newsmagazine earlier this year that he believes Fortress had a planned to take Intrawest private and load it up with debt.

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