Ski industry pros want to manage Granby Ranch
With 40 years of industry experience, the executive group that wants to take on the ski and golf operations of Granby Ranch intends to minimize disruptions and capture opportunities.
Business partners Jace and Andy Wirth discussed the move with Sky-Hi News on Tuesday over the phone. They indicated a desire to take on the organizational structure of Granby Ranch and keep operations running as smoothly as possible.
The potential change comes as the real estate side of Granby Ranch, known as Granby Realty Holdings, faces foreclosure and sits in the hands of a receiver. The resort side of operations, including ski and golf, remain untouched for now, thanks to a previously existing contract with Headwaters Metropolitan District.
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The lender, Granby Prentice, said the current management company owned by Marise Cipriani has indicated it will be abandoning operations at the end of the ski season. Headwaters contracts out the management of Granby Ranch operations and previously issued a request for proposals to take on the management.
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Granby Prentice created an affiliate entity to hire a consultant, Ridgeline Executive Group. Ridgeline responded to the Headwaters’s request on Feb. 27. Granby Prentice indicated that if the proposal is successful, Ridgeline would be retained for management of operations.
While at least one website misreported that the group intends to buy the resort, Ridgeline has confirmed it is only working as an agent for Granby Prentice’s affiliate entity.
Father and son duo, Andy and Jace Wirth, are the co-founders of Ridgeline. Together, the two have worked for 23 different ski resorts across North America and even in China.
“It does not escape us that we provide for this submittal at a time whereby, at the strategic level, the circumstance of Granby Ranch is relatively tumultuous,” reads the cover letter for their proposal. “The current situation does not deter us at all, as we are executive leaders from the mountain resort sector with over 40 years of experience.”
Andy Wirth has spent 30 years in the ski industry, including 21 years as vice president of sales and marketing for the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corporation and nine years as president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, the parent company of Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley ski resorts.
Based in Olympic Valley, California, Squaw Valley is one of the largest ski areas in the country. Squaw Valley Ski Holdings oversaw the acquisition of Winter Park’s parent company and other resorts which would eventually become Alterra.
Jace Wirth grew up in Steamboat skiing and hanging out in his dad’s office. He possesses another 10 years of experience in the industry, working in marketing roles for Whistler Blackcomb, Mammoth, Echo Mountain and even as vice general manager for a resort in China.
The men declined to answer questions related to the formation of this executive group or give any financial details about the proposal, citing disclosure agreements. They also explained that they are not yet fully informed on a number of financial details.
“I would say it’s too early to review and discuss,” Andy Wirth said. “We have a great deal more to learn. We have an informed perspective on the industry and the competitive environment especially in Colorado.”
In both Granby Prentice’s stipulated protective order and Ridgeline’s proposal, the group asked for Granby Ranch current management to provide supplemental information such as financial data, personnel overviews and legal designations. Ridgeline should be meeting with Headwaters on March 18 to discuss the proposal.
The Wirths visited Granby Ranch over President’s Day weekend and expressed a strong admiration of the continued work by the resort’s team in times of doubt. Both made it clear that they hope to take on as many current Granby Ranch personnel as possible.
“We have seen that they’re a tough, hardworking, talented group up there that is undeterred despite the uncertainty,” Jace Wirth said. “Our (proposal) contemplates and addresses operational continuity. That includes working with the great team. That’s our focus at this place in time.”
For the golf side of operations, the group is bringing in Ross McLean. While the team hopes to keep the resort’s structure as much as possible, McLean brings experience both as a PGA Golf Professional and from his work at Cherry Creek Country Club, Denver Country Club and other golf resorts.
Jace Wirth said he plans to work on Granby Ranch full time if the proposal goes through. Andy Wirth, who is based in Montana and is working on other projects outside Granby Ranch, said assuming management of Granby Ranch is his priority. He plans to spend about half his time in Granby.
The Wirths declined to get into further details about their vision for the resort, in part because of details yet to be revealed and the fact that the proposal has not yet been accepted.
“It’s critical to understand that we’re not even at the incipient stage of this circumstance,” Andy Wirth said. “Calling it ‘early’ at this stage would be overstating it.”
While so much uncertainty remains, the two men are eager to see what could be done with Granby Ranch in the current landscape with behemoths like Vail Resorts and Alterra to compete with.
“There’s no doubt that there’s not only room for Granby Ranch in this environment, there’s opportunity to flourish,” Andy Wirth said.
Both emphasized the friendly and familiar environment they saw during their visit, thanks to the work of current employees.
“The staff was engaging, unbelievable friendly and helpful,” Jace Wirth said. “Guests were having a heck of a time, tons of laughing. There were positive vibes coming from the mountain.”
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