Saturday, February 2, 2002
The deal finally got done Friday for the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and judging from the tumbling nature of American Skiing Co.'s stock, it was none too soon.
American Skiing gets $91.4 million in cash, which appears to be less than what the company paid for Steamboat in 1997. But it's still millions the company desperately needs to relieve some of its heavy debt.
Tim and Diane Mueller get a ski resort that remains one of the best performing in America, despite the fact that in the past 10 years, Steamboat has had three different owners whom either didn't make the necessary investment in the resort or didn't have the cash to do so.
Given American Skiing Co.'s problems of late the company is in danger of being delisted by the New York Stock Exchange as its stock fell to 41 cents per share the announcement of a deal with anyone is a relief. It didn't matter who signed that purchase agreement Friday; chances are they would be welcomed with open arms.
But judging from their history as ski operators and the way they handled the announcement of the deal, the Muellers are more than deserving of a hearty welcome.
Vermont's Okemo Mountain Resort was a struggling enterprise before the Muellers acquired it in the 1980s.
By all accounts, the Muellers have turned the resort around. In fact, they are revered in Vermont and much of New England for the work they have done with Okemo and the other resort they operate, Mount Sunapee near Newbury, N.H.
The Muellers have said they don't expect the same challenge in Steamboat, which already enjoys nearly twice the number of skier visits per year as Okemo.
Diane Mueller said the couple plans to build on what Steamboat has, not start from scratch.
They said they plan to attack the ski mountain's most pressing needs first replacing the Sunshine Chairlift and improving the lodges at Thunderhead and Rendezvous. Tim Mueller said the company will invest about $10 million in capital improvements in the first two years.
What is also noteworthy is that the Muellers have pulled in local investors and have demonstrated a sensitivity to the community. "The local component is critical at all of our ski areas, but more particularly here," Tim Mueller said. "Each ski area has to maintain its own unique character and fit in with the traditions and values of the community. We don't want to (project) a corporate image coming down, but more of a local image coming through."
Surely, those words are music to Steamboat's ears.
Now, for the sake of the town and the resort, we can only hope the Muellers' actions live up to them.