Mammoth sale leads to Vail, Intrawest speculation
California’s largest ski area, Mammoth Mountain, is on the sale block.Controlling interest in the resort 300 miles north of Los Angeles is being sold by founder David McCoy, 89, who informed employees Wednesday of his decision, according to wire service reports. Last year the resort hosted 1.4 million skiers.Speculation throughout the ski industry has Vail Resorts and Intrawest, the two largest ski resort competitors in North America, as likely bidders on the property, which could fetch as much as $200 million. Whether Vail and Intrawest are investigating the purchase of Mammoth could not be confirmed because the companies have a policy of not commenting on potential acquisitions. When purchase talks begin, both buyer and seller typically sign a confidentiality agreement precluding comment on the potential sale.But ski industry analyst Will Marks of San Francisco-based JMP Securities thinks the scenario logical.”They are the only ski resort companies that are big enough,” he said. “The only other potential buyer would be a private equity firm.”Intrawest is a logical purchaser. It teamed up with McCoy in 1996 and has invested $1 billion in a base village at Mammoth and has made on-mountain improvements. It is also completing a $140 million Westin Hotel in Mammoth Lakes. Intrawest is the largest ski resort operator in North America and it owns or has partnerships with 14 ski resorts, including Copper Mountain in Colorado, Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Mt. Tremblant in Quebec, Stratton Mountain in Vermont and has interests in other resorts. Its resorts host 7.2 million skiers annually and the company earned $60 million on $1.5 billion in sales last year.Vail Resorts purchased Heavenly at Tahoe, 120 miles to the north, three summers ago for $100 million. Heavenly hosts approximately 900,000 skiers annually. Vail Resorts also operates Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone and Breckenridge ski resorts in Colorado, as well as 10 Luxury RockResorts across the country and the Grand Teton Lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyo. The company hosts 5.6 million skiers annually.Mammoth has 4,000 skiable acres, 35 lifts and 185 ski trails. It lost $6 million on $721 million in sales, largely due to a one-time refunding of debt.The potential purchaser could see a significant benefit, Marks said. A regional airport that could serve Mammoth is being considered. Eagle County’s airport is used by nearly one-third of the ski visitors to Vail and Beaver Creek, and to a lesser degree, skiers visiting Aspen.Mammoth, which sometimes receives so much snow lifts have to be shut down, was founded in 1937 when McCoy began towing skiers up the mountain with a rope tied to his automobile.The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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