|Contributed by Chris Dehnel
December 10, 2008
|Ski Areas Throughout Northeast
Open Season with Improvements
As a business story, what has happened at Okemo Mountain Resort is huge.
As a business story, what has happened at the Vermont mountain is also typical.
In a joint news release dated Dec. 5, Okemo's parent company, Triple Peaks LLC and CNL Lifestyle Properties Inc., a real estate investment trust that focuses on recreational holdings, announced that CNL has acquired Okemo, Crested Butte in Colorado and the operating rights to Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire. The price was not disclosed, but industry sources say it is a $132 million sale and lease-back arrangement that may include a buy-back clause that allows Okemo owners Tim and Diane Mueller to keep operating the three resorts with an option of disappearing from the scene or staying around with even more leverage power.
The deal combines the Muellers - poster people for success in an industry that has had corporate giants crumble around them - with the up and coming player - CNL - which has made a huge splash with its purchase of the Mount Washington Hotel and neighboring Bretton Woods and now has 13 snowsports areas and eight relative real estate developments in its portfolio.
Mergers, acquisitions, and a never-ending scramble to secure funds for ongoing capital projects has become all too commonplace in this economic climate. With that said, how does it all translate into a skiing and snowboarding story?
"This transaction provides Triple Peaks the opportunity for immediate enhancement to these popular mountain destinations that will improve the overall skier experience and extend the resorts' offerings for all four seasons," CNL President and Chief Executive Officer Byron Carlock said.
Basically, the extra capital will allow construction of the Red Lady Lodge at Crested Butte to proceed and the conference center and 9-hole golf course at Okemo's Jackson Gore, which were kind-of sort-of put on hold, to be constructed.
"It has become something of a non-story," Okemo Public Relations Director Bonnie MacPherson said. "Aside from the projects, nothing will be different. It's another transaction that will not affect a mountain from the operations perspective. Tim and Diane are still here. It's business as usual ... full steam ahead ... all systems go."
When challenged that they may be company lines, MacPherson said, "OK, they sound kind of like cliches, but that's they way it is."
MacPherson said Okemo has been committed to taking a conservative approach. Therefore, securing that kind of financing without going through the now-arduous bank process is arguably a good move.
"Tim and Diane are smart people and they make smart business moves," she said. "The influx of capital will allow us to do what we have wanted to do in a questionable economy."
Tim Mueller said the transaction puts Triple Peaks in "a stronger position that ever to enhance our resort operations to ensure our long-term popularity."
Industry sources also said the deal may not include all real estate development rights at Crested Butte and Okemo. Sunapee is owned by the state of New Hampshire but is operated by Triple Peaks.
Speaking of Okemo real estate, a good chunk of it is being taken up by a bus, in the terrain park.
The "Pepsi Amp Bus" is scheduled to make its debut at Okemo Saturday the 13th of December. At that time, Ross Powers, Olympic gold medalist and the mountain's snowboarding ambassador, will take the ceremonial first ride over the bus.
Pepsi supplied the bus and it has been in a garage in South Londonderry for weeks being custom fitted. The bus sits perpendicular to the slope with rails taking the place of both the front and rear bumpers. A box element has been put into the hood and a plexiglass bowl has been fashioned into the side of the bus to create a sort of quarter-pipe effect.
Oh, and it is surrounded by a pretty powerful sound system.
Okemo is featuring two new trails this season at Jackson Gore - Rolling Thunder and White Lightning, but without snowmaking only a huge dump will get them open soon. Okemo still has more that 40 trails open as of December 11th and could have as many as 50 when the Jackson Gore lifts go online Saturday the 13th. It already had 15 trails open with four solid top-to-bottom runs on Nov. 22.
In an attempt to alleviate some of the congestion at the base lodge, Okemo officials have installed a loading carpet on the South Ridge Quad B Lift (the one on the left) to help beginners and novices navigate the lift line. The carpet was recently tested to be ready to go for the weekend crowds.