Who will buy our ski area?

Suitors exist, but front runner isn't clear

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— American Skiing Co. CEO B.J. Fair said he thinks there are a number of potential buyers for the company's Steamboat Ski Area and related assets.

Fair wouldn't speculate on which company might step forward. But there are a handful of companies that it seems would have some interest in the property.

Intrawest Corp., a publicly traded company based in British Columbia, is one of the most obvious. The company has aggressively acquired properties in the past four years.

But earlier this month, Intrawest officials indicated the company has moved beyond the acquisition phase and would only look at buying another resort if the price were very favorable.

Intrawest Chief Financial Officer Daniel Jarvis told Steamboat Today his company had identified Steamboat as a resort that could fit its business model. However, he said his company has moved on to "harvesting" the rewards of acquisitions made over the past four years.

Vail Resorts ran into antitrust complications when it successfully added two major ski areas, Keystone and Breckenridge, to its roster several years ago. That fact casts a shadow on the possibility of Vail making a bid for Steamboat.

The four ski areas that come under the Aspen name are privately held by the Crown family.

A company called Booth Creek, including what remains of George Gillette's string of midsize ski areas, is currently attempting to sell Bear Mountain in Southern California.

Another active company that recently added Mount Bachelor, Ore., to its list of resorts is Powdr Corp. Former Steamboat Ski Area President Vern Greco is among the principals in Powdr Corp., which also owns Park City, Utah, and Alpine Meadows, near Lake Tahoe.

Industry analyst Phelps Hoyt of Montpelier, Vt., theorized American Skiing and its investment banker, Credit Suisse First Boston, might reach out to a major hotel company or a group of private investors.

Hoyt said it would be in the best interest of American Skiing to announce a buyer by summer, then close the deal during the fall. Announcing a new owner before the summer is out would bolster consumer confidence, Hoyt said.

Fair acknowledged that historically in the ski industry, prospective buyers have preferred to accomplish their due diligence during the summer, in order to close before the ski season is in full swing.

Despite the flat national economy, Fair said he thinks there are buyers who will recognize the market value of the ski area.

"The economy is a concern," Fair said. "That's out there. "But Steamboat is a world-class ski destination. It will be attractive to many purchasers."

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