Aspen Skico interested in Telluride

Naomi HavlenAspen Times Staff Writer

The Aspen Skiing Co. is interested in buying the Telluride ski resort, a company official said Monday, adding the resort represents a “like-minded company and community.””We think of Telluride as one of the special places in the world that very rarely becomes available,” said David Perry, Skico senior vice president of marketing and sales. “This shouldn’t be construed as expressing an interest in any old ski resort. Telluride certainly is in an elite league of resorts and caught our interest – [Skico owner] Jim Crown’s and ours.”Telluride Ski & Golf Co. owner Hideo “Joe” Morita had his investment banking company ask a number of ski areas if they’d be interested in the resort, Perry said. The Skico was asked to address six issues – and sign a confidentiality agreement – to meet last Friday’s deadline.”They were asking for an expression of interest and specific items with that,” Perry said. “We did respond last week after minor due diligence … we did [imply] what assets we were interested in, and under what circumstances.”Former Vail Resorts President Andy Daly has also expressed interest in the resort, according to a report in The Denver Post, as have up to 10 other investors.Morita, who announced in March that he wanted to find investors or a buyer, has not announced a price for the resort.Ski industry observer and Telluride resident Hal Clifford said he has heard rumors that the resort could sell for as high as $80 million. He added Telluride is not a resort that makes a lot of money – and most of the real estate development in the area is complete.”Most of what [Morita] got has been development,” he said. “Just because you’re asking X amount for something doesn’t mean the cash flow can support that.”Perry said the timetable for Morita’s sale is unknown, including whether he plans on selling to one of the interested parties or if he will enter negotiations for a partnership. The Skico does know Morita is narrowing down a list of interested parties, based on what has been submitted.”We expect at some point that they’d be negotiating with a smaller group,” Perry said. “Whether we’re a part of that is out of our hands.”Clifford, a former Aspen resident who wrote the ski industry book “Downhill Slide,” said Morita became “almost an accidental owner” of the ski area when his initial business partner couldn’t get his financing together. But Telluride is a fraction of Morita’s holdings, since he finances many more investments in Japan, Clifford said.He said he’s not surprised Morita is interested in selling the area, since he has no connections with Telluride. Even so, locals may be sad to see him leave.”I think most people in Telluride would say [Morita] has been a good owner,” Clifford said.Morita has invested a lot of money in the ski area, he said, including additional snowmaking and 733 new acres of skiable terrain in the controversial Prospect Bowl area, which became a new way to sell the resort.Clifford said he’s surprised to hear of the Aspen Skico’s interest in the resort, given his understanding of the Crown family’s motives for being in the ski business.”It intrigues me – I have always believed the Crowns were anomalies in the ski business,” he said. “They loved Aspen, therefore they thought they should own the Aspen Skiing Company. [In] watching how they’ve behaved, they have a defensive ownership. They’re afraid that someone else would screw it up.”Clifford calls it the “benevolent monarchy system” and noted that the Crown family hasn’t owned another ski resort since they sold Blackcomb in Canada in the 1980s.”Why are they interested in getting back into this business?” he said. “It’s an interesting question.”Like in any ski town where the ski resort is for sale, Telluride residents worry they’ll get a “bad owner,” he said. But locals may favor the Crown family’s strong commitment to the environment and the community.Like in Aspen, Telluride residents “don’t lie down” for ski companies, Clifford said, pointing out that the Prospect Bowl expansion was so vigorously opposed in the mid ’90s that the plan was dropped for a while.”There is an understanding that the ski area is an important economic engine, but it doesn’t get free reign by any means,” he said.Telluride residents might be happy to have the Aspen Skiing Co. as owners, but they would strongly resist any large developments like the base village at Highlands or the planned Intrawest village at Snowmass, he said.[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is]