ASC sells Sugarbush resort |

ASC sells Sugarbush resort

Company still looking to sell Steamboat to reduce debt

— American Skiing Co. announced Monday it had accepted an unsolicited offer for the Sugarbush Ski Resort in Vermont.

The buyer is Summit Ventures NE Inc., a company formed by a group of local investors in the Mad River Valley near Warren, Vt. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

The unexpected announcement comes as American Skiing enters the 14th week of its efforts to sell the Steamboat Ski Area. American Skiing announced last week it had completed a restructuring plan that includes a $30 million cash infusion from its majority shareholder, Texas-based Oak Hill Capital Partners.

American Skiing has said it hopes to close the sale of Steamboat before the first of the year. The sale of Sugarbush is expected to close by the start of ski season, ASC officials said.

American Skiing CEO B.J. Fair said the sale of Sugarbush advances his company’s plan to reduce its debt and focus on its best opportunities to grow. In addition to Steamboat, ASC owns five other ski areas in New England, Heavenly, Calif./Nev. and The Canyons, Utah.

“While we were not seeking a buyer for Sugarbush, we believe the unsolicited offer we received from Summit Ventures is in the best interest of American Skiing company investors,” Fair said in a prepared statement. “The sale is consistent with our strategic plan to focus management and financial resources on our highest growth opportunities.”

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ASC spokesman Skip King expressed some regret over the sale of Sugarbush.

“It was one of my favorites, but it makes sense,” King said of the deal.

ASC’s Chief Financial Officer Mark Miller has consistently said that although Steamboat was the only one of its ski areas the company was actively seeking to sell, it would take a careful look at unsolicited offers for its other resorts. Miller said the proceeds of the sale of Sugarbush will be used to de-lever the company and improve its bottom line.

Sugarbush, about 190 miles from Boston and 140 miles from Montreal, recorded about 359,000 skier days last winter. That compares to Steamboat at just more than 1 million skier days.

The new purchasers are very familiar with Sugarbush.

“Our team is made up of longtime Mad River Valley residents and experienced ski industry professionals,” said Thomas McHugh, CEO of Summit Ventures. “We know these mountains and what makes them special, and we’re committed to preserving and enhancing the unique character of Sugarbush.”

Sugarbush is not among the ski areas under ASC’s ownership, Steamboat among them, that has a Grand Summit Hotel.

Former American Skiing Chairman Les Otten purchased Sugarbush in May 1995 after running the ski area under a management contract for about nine months.

Sugarbush opened for business on Christmas Day 1958 under the ownership of the Gadd family. They operated the ski area until 1977, when they sold it to Roy Cohen. Cohen sold the mountain to ARA Food Services in 1983. Three years later, the mountain was sold to Claneil Enterprises of Philadelphia. Otten’s initial involvement was the management contract to run Sugarbush for Claneil.

King said Sugarbush was originally two ski areas, Sugarbush and Glen Ellen, about two miles away. They were brought under the same ownership, but skiers still had to get into their vehicles to shuttle between the two. Mount Ellen, at 4,135 feet, is the tallest of the “six mountains of Sugarbush.”

King said one of the first steps ASC took when it purchased Sugarbush was to build the world’s longest high speed quad chairlift, linking the two ski areas. That marked the first time skiers could conveniently enjoy the slopes offered by the two halves of Sugarbush.