Winter Park Resort wraps up whirlwind season
May 2, 2017
The 2016/2017 ski season will long be remembered as a watershed moment for Winter Park Resort.
Over the past six-months Winter Park Resort has seen massive structural changes with the retirement of long-time Resort President Gary DeFrange and the sale of Intrawest, the entity that holds the operational rights to Winter Park Resort, to Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital Partners.
Along with the changes in management and ownership Winter Park Resort has seen significant snowfall totals this season, extended their ski season for a second consecutive year, and welcomed the return of the Winter Park Express ski train. The resort finally closed all trails for the 2016/2017 ski season Sunday April 30.
The biggest news for Winter Park Resort this year was the sale of Intrawest to Aspen Skiing Co. and KSL Capital Partners, a Denver based private equity firm. The news sent shockwaves through the resort industry, which has long been dominated by both Intrawest and Vail Resorts.
The purchase price for Intrawest, which included debt obligations, was tallied at $1.5 billion. Intrawest was a publicly traded company; however, the sale to the privately held entities Aspen Skiing and KSL means shares of Intrawest will no longer be traded on public stock exchanges.
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Under the terms of the sale, Aspen Skiing and KSL will pay Intrawest stockholders $23.75 per share. According to information put out by Intrawest, that figure represents a 40 percent premium above the listed stock value for Intrawest in mid-January when Reuters reported speculation Intrawest was exploring a sale.
The sale marked the end of a consolidation period for Intrawest that began in the mid-2000s and represented a drastic departure from the industry dynamics Intrawest faced in past decades. Intrawest was the dominant ski resort entity in North America throughout the late 90s and early 2000s while owning Whistler-Blackcomb, North America's largest ski resort, Copper Mountain, and Les Arcs in France, among other properties.
In 2006, private equity firm Fortress Investment Group acquired Intrawest for $2.8 billion. In 2009 and 2010 Intrawest sold off multiple properties including Copper Mountain, Les Arcs and most of their stake in Whistler-Blackcomb.
The whirlwind of new announcements began in late January when the resort announced president and chief operating officer Gary DeFrange was planning to retire near the end of the season. DeFrange began his tenure with Winter Park Resort in 1997 and was only the third president in Winter Park's nearly eight-decade long history.
When the announcement of DeFrange's planned retirement was made he called his decision "bittersweet" and added he was filled with gratitude, "for the immense privilege of leading one of the country's greatest resorts for so long."
DeFrange's retirement created an opening at Winter Park Resort that was filled by Sky Foulkes, a former professional ski patroller and President of Stratton Mountain in Vermont.
The other major development at Winter Park Resort this season was the return of the Winter Park Express ski train. The Winter Park Express takes passengers from Union Station in Denver to the base of Winter Park Resort and was a staple of the Front Range skiing community. In 2009 operation of the train was halted.
After extensive negotiations a deal was worked out to resume operations for this year's ski season. With the Winter Park Express back up and running, Winter Park Resort is now the only ski resort in the U.S. with direct rail service from a major city.
The Express is scheduled to run next ski season as well and officials from the resort are working with both Amtrak and Union Pacific on, "potential improvements to the service next season," said Winter Park Resort spokesman Steve Hurlbert.
This was an erratic year for snowfall at Winter Park Resort. After postponing opening day for the 2016/2017 ski season by one week the resort opened on Nov. 23. Heavy early winter snowstorms deposited lots of powder in the Middle Park region but by January the snowfall began to become more sporadic, a detail officials from Winter Park acknowledged.
Despite the odd snowfall patterns this winter the Resort still saw more snowfall than it typically averages most years. According to Steve Hurlbert Winter Park tallied 330-inches of snow this season, which is seven-inches more than the Resort's overall average annual snowfall of 323-inches.
"The way it fell was a little strange this season," Hurlbert stated. "But all in all it ended up being a great snow year."