Saturday, January 4, 2003
Judge Richard Doucette's summary judgment last week essentially ended Tim and Diane Mueller's bid to purchase the Steamboat Springs Ski Area.
Doucette ruled that American Skiing Co. was right -- the contract allowed American Skiing to pay $500,000 to back out of the deal to sell Steamboat to Triple Peaks LLC, the investment group led by the Muellers.
The ruling means those in the community who thought American Skiing's days in Steamboat were numbered need to think again. The Steamboat community and American Skiing are, for better or worse, tied together.
That does not have to be a bad thing. As Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. President Chris Diamond noted, the lawsuit kept the focus on the past and the judge's decision allows the ski area to look to the future. Too many people still bitter over the Les Otten era at American Skiing had hoped the Muellers would find a way to force the ski area sale. Those people need to move on -- the Les Otten era is ancient history, and American Skiing has long since put a new management team in place.
But given the rocky history between the community and American Skiing, perhaps it is too much to ask the community to embrace its future with American Skiing, as Diamond suggested after Doucette's ruling.
Some of American Skiing's actions in the past year are cause for hope. The company has invested $2 million in improvements to on-mountain facilities and equipment. American Skiing came through with its share of improvements to Mount Werner Circle. And the company has managed the ski season jet program well when other resorts are struggling with their programs.
But there are other things American Skiing must do before it can expect broad community support. Some suggestions:
n The work included in the Mount Werner Circle improvements is a starting point. Continue investing in the pedestrian connectivity throughout the base area.
n Replace the Sunshine and Burgess Creek lifts with new high-speed lifts.
n Provide a permanent facility for Ski Patrol.
n Resolve the financial deals plaguing the real estate side of the business including the Grand Summit Resort Hotel and the Meadows property.
n Continue improvements to the on-mountain dining facilities.
n And demonstrate that American Skiing has the financial wherewithal to compete with the heavies in the ski industry, namely Vail Resorts and Intrawest.
It's unrealistic to expect American Skiing to accomplish all of this immediately. But moving forward with such investments truly is the best and quickest way for American Skiing to win the community's trust and have Steamboat embrace its future with the company.