Copper Mountain to change hands

FRISCO – Poker-faced Intrawest has finally played a card. Company officials last week announced what they described as a “definite deal” with Powdr Corp. to sell the Copper Mountain ski area.

Intrawest has owned the resort since 1996. Intrawest, in turn, was purchased by Fortress Investment Group LLC in October 2006 for a reported $1.8 billion. Then in October 2008, Fortress barely beat a deadline to refinance $1.7 billion in debt.

Citing a Bloomberg report, Whistler’sPique notes that Fortress told investors that Intrawest was listed at 29 percent of the price it paid for the company. The letter to investors called Intrawest “Our most challenging … investment.”

Bill Jensen, the chief executive, openly admitted to the need to sell a property. But, in an interview with theSummit 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.

Ian Galbraith, the spokesman for Intrawest, told the same newspaper last week that he couldn’t elaborate on the assets included in the sale.

Intrawest earlier this year sold two resorts in France.

Taking stock of the sale in an interview with theAspen 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 went away altogether, and Booth Creek remains small.

“It tells you that this business is different, as we’ve always known,” Kaplan said. “It really is ‘of the community,’ and that is one of the things we try and focus.

“When you are owned by a bigger conglomerate, in a mountain town anyway, that’s tough because residents of places like this … are independent thinkers and people who like to enjoy the mountains and have strong opinions and feelings about those mountains.”

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 more wisely.

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.

TheSummit 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.

Powdr Corp. owns Park City Mountain Resort in Utah, Killington in Vermont, Mt. Bachelor in Oregon and a handful of other ski areas.


County presses for fracing details

JACKSON, Wyo. – The controversy about chemicals used in extracting natural gas from so-called unconventional geological formations continues to percolate in ski towns of the West.

In Wyoming, the Teton County commissioners have adopted a resolution urging Congress to pass a law that would allow a physician or nurse access to chemical formulas used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracing.

Teton County has interest in what is becoming a national debate because the local hospital, St. John’s Medical Center, sometimes treats workers injured in the natural-gas fields to the south.

At issue is whether the chemicals used in fracing must be divulged, and in what form. The bill now before Congress would increase federal oversight. The gas industry maintains that existing procedures have been established to protect public health.

Perhaps the most infamous case involving fracing chemicals occurred at Durango, when a local nurse suffered severe symptoms of chemical poisoning last year after treating an individual who had been doused in hydraulic fracturing chemicals.

Also at issue is whether fracing chemicals have or could contaminate drinking water supplies. Petroleum geologists insist that fracing chemicals cannot find their way from natural gas deposits to drinking water supplies. A Colorado School of Mines professor told Planning Magazine last summer that the only that water supplies could be contaminated was if the concrete casing in a well ruptured.

Nonetheless, doubts persist whether geologists truly know as much about the subterranean as they profess. Five years ago, chemicals began bubbling to the surface of West Divide Creek, about 80 miles west of Aspen and Vail, in Garfield County. A woman who lived in the area developed medical problems that, according to a story inOn Earth Magazine, she believes were caused by contamination of drinking water.


Realtors hoping for summer sunshine

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Recently, there was further evidence of hope from the pages of theSteamboat Pilot & Today in a report about a source of trouble for ski towns everywhere: stalled real estate sales.

ThePilot & Today reports nothing remarkable in sales. In the big money soft spot – homes worth $2 to $3 million – almost no sales have occurred in the last year. But after sellers have finally started lowering prices, the real estate store at least has been getting shoppers.

“Our phone calls, Web traffic and showings are all up,” said Dave Baldinger Jr. of Steamboat Village Brokers. He expects plenty of real-estate lookers over the holidays, more hard looks come March – and sales next summer.

But lower prices were the first essential, he told the newspaper.

“We’re starting all over, brick by brick,” Baldinger said. “Over months and years, we’ll see growing sales volume and growing confidence in the values placed on properties.”

A blogger on the newspaper’s website identified as Scott Wedel was not persuaded. “Local realtors expressed hope after the sun rose today,” he wrote, assigning local realty agents such names as Mindless Promoter, Polly Anna and Ignorance S. Bliss.

Ketchum strikes windmill compromise

KETCHUM, Idaho – Last summer, it seemed like a fine idea to allow windmills along Highway 75, which connects Sun Valley, Ketchum and other communities in the Wood River Valley.

But the Blaine County commissioners have changed their opinion, reports theIdaho Mountain Express. The commissioners intend to allow small wind turbines, but only up to 40 feet and on properties of 5 acres or more.

Wind has presented community officials across the country with Solomon-like questions of utility. To be more effective, wind turbines need to be higher in the air. But even some supporters find them jarring to the landscape.

“If we’re going to allow wind turbines, we need to have them accepted by the community,” Larry Schoen, the chairman of the commissioners, said. “We can’t create a negative attitude about wind energy. It’s not just about creating electricity.”


Solar could go higher in Aspen

ASPEN – At first, many people objected to the sight of solar collectors on roofs. That aesthetic heartburn has gone away, but the debate continues in the matter of free-standing solar collectors.

TheAspen Times reports that Pitkin County officials are now considering whether to allow the free-standing collectors to be a maximum of 16 feet tall. Current law allows 10 feet.

Higher installations would allow the collectors to be well above the snow line. But higher installations mean more interruptions of scenic views from neighboring homes. In a report, county planner Mike Kraemer also said that some people believe the free-standing solar arrays have more of an industrial look.

Alan Richman, a planning consultant, said he fears that people, even in the Roaring Fork Valley, may not be willing to move past battles over aesthetics to support the advancement of renewable energy. “The point is not is it pretty or ugly, but that’s what we ought to be doing,” Richman said.


Ski area caters to ‘club members’

PARK CITY, Utah – Talisker, the operator of The Canyons ski area, has copied a page from ski area operators in Colorado and Utah. For extra money, customers can get extra privileges, like first dibs on the morning’s powder skiing.

This and other perks will be folded into the privileges of the new Canyon Club. Cost is $2,500 for a couple and for a family of four the bill runs $5,900.

Club members will also get discounts on dining, several free ski lessons, discounts on equipment, and line-cutting privileges, reportsThe Park Record.


Winter Park may ban dispensaries

WINTER PARK – Winter Park, like Avon before it, may prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries within town limits. Drew Nelson, the town manager, told theSky-Hi Daily News that prohibition was provoked by the sentiment that Winter Park clientele includes customers from the “more conservative areas of the country.”

Somewhat ironically, a major portion of the ski area at Winter Park is called Mary Jane.

– Allen Best