What was, what is and what might have been
Intrawest just missed acquiring Steamboat in 1997
Steamboat Springs — The irony didn’t escape Tim Mueller late last week. Five days after American Skiing Company backed out of its deal to sell the Steamboat Ski Area to Mueller’s Triple Peaks group, the Burgess Creek chairlift broke down.
Now, now, don’t get carried away.
I’m not suggesting cause and effect here.
And this is not going to be a column about karma.
What I’m trying to tell you is that Mueller was getting ready to replace that old relic of a ski lift.
I have a little bit of affection for the old double chair that gives skiers views of the creek that rises from springs up in Big Meadow.
We used to ride it all day back in the 1970s, when the number one bump run was BC lift line to Whiteout.
And that’s the point.
Even though the lift maintenance crew has done a wonderful job of keeping it running, that chairlift is older than the 23-year-olds who load skiers’ butts onto it all winter.
Mueller told me on April 5 that had he acquired the ski area he would have replaced both the Burgess Creek and Sunshine triple chairlifts this summer.
I had to ask: “Did you hear that Burgess Creek broke down this week?”
“I heard that, but I didn’t know what happened,” he replied.
“Have you already signed a contract for the new lift?” I asked.
“Luckily, no. But we were in negotiations,” he said.
It all makes you start thinking about what might have been.
Of course, the Muellers and Triple peaks haven’t given up they filed suit in U.S. District Court in Denver Friday to seek to have their contract to buy the ski area enforced.
However, if you really want to indulge in “what might have been,” let’s go back to 1997.
I was in touch with former ski area president Gary Mielke last week and he told me something I had not known before.
When Kamori Kanko sold the Steamboat Ski Area together with Heavenly Valley, Calif., to American Skiing Company five years ago, ASC outbid industry heavyweight, Intrawest by a lousy $200,000!
It was so close between the two bids that Kamori Kanko officials chose ASC over Intrawest on criteria other than money.
“The line Kamori told the top officers at Steamboat was that Intrawest was a real estate operator and ASC was a ski area operator,” Mielke said.
“Kamori felt that Steamboat would be in better hands with a ski operator and being American (not Canadian like Intrawest) that ASC would be better accepted in the community and not carry the foreign stigma that had haunted the Japanese ownership years.”
Mielke went on to say a number of people with the inside skinny, including former longtime Steamboat owners representative Martin Hart, thought it was curious that Kamori sold to ASC rather than Intrawest.
Kamori had one thing right Intrawest is a real estate operator. But they also operate one of the top two skiing destinations in North America at Whistler/Blackcomb in British Columbia.
And they have excelled at building intriguing pedestrian friendly base villages from Blackcomb to Mt. Tremblant, Quebec, to Sandestin, Fla., and even les Arcs, France.
Where ASC has failed at marketing quartershare vacation ownerships, Intrawest is kicking butt at the same game!
Intrawest is so good at this that their rivals in Aspen and Vail have sought their help.
Both of those multi mountain ski area operators cut deals with Intrawest to create new resort villages for them.
Intrawest is building a village at Keystone for Vail, and at Snowmass for Aspen.
How good are they really?
On March 25, Intrawest announced that it took them a full eight hours to sell out $22 million of real estate in the 102 suite
Hameau du Glacier project at Les Arcs.
How did they do that?
Oh, they threw a little invitation-only shindig at the George V Four Seasons Hotel in Paris, and signed everybody up, that’s how.
Who better could we have found five years ago than Intrawest to tackle redevelopment of Steamboat’s ill designed base than Intrawest?
Do you think the big hotel that sits across Mt. Werner Road from Gondola Plaza would look a little different had Intrawest undertaken the project?
Yep, me too.
But my purpose isn’t to bash ASC. Nor should this be taken as a comment on what Tim and Diane Mueller might be able to accomplish should they be successful in their lawsuit.
I just wanted to point out what a quirky thing life in a ski town is.
I interviewed Intrawest CFO Daniel Jarvis last July primarily because my hunch was that Intrawest would purchase Steamboat from ASC.
It turns out my hunch wasn’t wrong, just 54 months late.
Jarvis said in July 2001 that Intrawest had looked at Steamboat, it was on their radar screen and it was among the resorts his company had not ruled out.
Little did we know.
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