Friday, December 22, 2006

The future of Steamboat

The big news in Steamboat this week (apart from the effects of the blizzard) has been the sale of the ski area to Intrawest for $265 million.

It's hard to predict exactly what this will mean for the ski mountain or the town, but based on Intrawest's record it's not too hard to guess that they are going to spend a really big chunk of money on upgrading facilities. That's a positive contrast to the previous owners ASC who have been carrying a lot of debt and consequently investing very little capital.

The obvious place they'll start is the base area which is incredibly dated, doesn't work well and doesn't really generate the sort of return that slope side real estate should. Just look at what they did at Winter Park.

It's not so obvious that there'll be an expansion of the ski area given that Steamboat is already a large resort (3,000 skiable acres) and the environmental hurdles to expansion on public land are not insignificant. But I think we can realistically hope for further lift upgrades, especially a high speed lift from the base area to take the pressure off the gondola, and probably more snowmaking.

In the past 12 months Steamboat has been experiencing a real estate and development boom. I don't see that stopping any time soon because even with the 15-20% appreciation in values this year property in Steamboat is still a bargain compared to other resorts and Intrawest's investment can only add fuel to that fire.

Development can be a two-edged sword but I'm hopeful that the Steamboat community and Intrawest are sufficiently conscious of the unique qualities of this valley not to ruin it. And hopefully growth will bring direct air services to LA, which would certainly make life a lot easier for me!

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