Five reasons the Copper Mountain sale is a good thing
There's not a lot of new news about the proposed sale of Copper Mountain from Intrawest to Powdr Corp beyond the press release I reported on Tuesday, but it looks like a done deal, pending U.S. Forest Service approval, with sale price speculation in the $100 million-plus range. The initial buzz among skiers and snowboarders here in Colorado is that it's all probably a good thing.
While we wait for more details, let's go ahead and speculate wildly: I
hereby offer 5 reasons why the sale to Powdr Corp is probably for the
1. Intrawest got too big for its britches.
Intrawest picked up both Copper and Whistler in a package deal for $192
million in 1996, then dumped a bunch more money into rebuilding pretty
much the entire base area before it was stymied by the Summit County
Board of Commissioners in 2004: The company had planned to go even
bigger, adding another 1,155 residential units and
than 150,000 square feet of commercial space at the base.
skiers and snowboarders, and longtime Copper Mountain fans (like
myself), it all felt like too much misplaced emphasis. Whatever
happened to that initial promise of $26 million for new lifts, anyway?
It turns out the locals' hunch was spot on: Intrawest was bleeding
money the whole time, with estimated debts to the tune of $2 billion,
and has been spinning off some of its less profitable resorts this year
to compensate. Now we're left with a pretty sweet modern base area at
Copper Mountain and an incoming new owner who places more emphasis on
the ski experience itself than on real estate deals.
Anyone who's ever ridden at Killington, Pico, Mount Bachelor, or Park
City Mountain knows that Powdr Corp strikes a better balance on those
fronts than Intrawest, and we're looking forward to seeing how it
unfolds here in Colorado.
2. Treehuggers, rejoice! As I previously reported here, Copper
Mountain received a failing grade this year -- the worst grade in
Colorado, in fact -- on the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition Environmental Scorecard, with zero marks for failure to protect endangered species habitat (Intrawest's trails and
facilities improvements were determined "likely to adversely affect
determinations for Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail chub, humpback chub,
razorback sucker, and lynx or their habitats"), permanent removal and
disturbance of wetlands and old growth forests, and excessive
snowmaking activities and increased water diversion from Ten Mile
By contrast, two of Powdr Corp's resorts made the SACC Top 10:
Park City Mountain at No. 4 (behind Aspen, Buttermilk, and Sundance) and
Mount Bachelor at No. 8. Powdr Corp also received a Green Power Leadership
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2008, and won a 2008 Clif
Bar Silver Eagle Award for Excellence in Energy Conservation. Come out,
come out, wherever you are, bonytail chubs!
3. The local season pass game could use a little shake-up. The
first question on everybody's mind with yesterday's announcement was
answered immediately: Yes, Copper Mountain will be honoring all Rocky
Mountain Superpass products for the 2009-2010 season.
Beyond that there
are more questions than answers: How will Powdr Corp compete with the
Vail Resorts' Summit Pass, Colorado Pass, and Epic Pass deals? Will
Powdr Corp maintain an alliance with Intrawest to continue selling
co-branded passes to Copper/Winter Park/Steamboat? Are Intrawest's
interests in Winter Park and Steamboat also up for grabs? Will they
offer a heavily discounted Copper-only pass to try to compete, Lone
Ranger-style? Build alliances with other ski resorts? Broker a deal to
get in on the Colorado Pass somehow? I'll wait for better information
before I pass judgment, but I'm awfully curious to see how it all
shakes out: Could be good for local skiers and snowboarders,
potentially shaking up some longstanding monopolies in longstanding
need of a good shaking.
4. Athletes first. Critics
concerned that Intrawest was, first and foremost, in the tourism
business -- and not the ski and snowboard industry -- can take heart in Powdr
Corp's athlete roster and athlete program at Park City Mountain: Ever
heard of Shaun White, Tanner Hall, or Torah Bright? They're all on the
Park City All Star team, along with Erin Comstock, Marc Frank Montoya,
Torstein Horgmo, Scotty Arnold, Aaron Biitner, Stevie Bell, Drew
Fuller, and Ashley Battersby, and for good reason: Powdr Corp hosts
world class pro events at Park City Mountain, Mount Bachelor, and
Killington, and has a reputation for maintaining some of the best
superpipes and terrain parks in the biz. The pipe and parks at Copper
should be in good hands, especially assuming the partnership with Woodward at Copper
will continue under the new ownership.
Expect increased emphasis on
the actual ski experience, and look for on-mountain improvements to
take precedence over base-area amenities once Powdr Corp takes over.
5. Resort company versus mountain lifestyle company.
Whatever Intrawest and its resorts might have once been, the fact is
that it was taken over by Fortress Investment Group in 2006 and is now
hemorrhaging money. In other words, from an investment standpoint, it's
a bad investment. Lift ticket and season pass prices at Copper shot up
immediately after Fortress came into the picture, and the actual
on-mountain ski experience hasn't improved much since. Let's face it:
Copper is never going to be able to compete with Vail or Breckenridge
as a resort destination.
But as a year-round mountain lifestyle
destination? That's a different story, and Powdr Corp seems better
equipped to approach it as such. The official word from CEO John Cumming is promising: "We believe that the mountain terrain is our greatest asset and are always looking at ways to enhance it for our guests. As one of the largest ski areas in Summit County, Copper Mountain is a perfect addition to the Powdr Corp family."
As we wait to see how it all unfolds, we'll take brief solace in the Powdr Corp mission statement: "We are passionate about the mountain lifestyle in which we live, work and play and we are taking action today to preserve and enhance this mountain experience for generations to come." Can I get an amen on that?
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