1992 – Apollo Advisors arrives at Vail
Before Apollo, Black had been a managing director at Drexel Burnham Lambert, where he had headed mergers and acquisitions and had been the co-head of corporate finance.
Apollo recapitalized the bankrupt Gillett Holdings by putting in equity. The company then sold the TV stations, the meat-packing operations and the excess land holdings, leaving the firm with just Vail Associates.
Personally, I was uneasy about the new ownership, and I was very sorry to see Gillett go. After all, he had brought me back to Vail Associates after all those years in the wilderness.
Also, I wasn’t sure that a powerful private equity firm was the right entity to run something as unpredictable and, at times, as unmanageable as a ski resort. Big-time corporate techniques wouldn’t necessarily apply, and bottom-line thinking couldn’t always be used as the final judgment of success. I was afraid the MBA mentality might not appreciate the need to expand and improve our mountains to make the skiing ever more exciting. And I didn’t know if the importance of Alpine ski racing would be understood.
One thing was certain: Both Vail and Beaver Creek were in great shape when Apollo entered the picture because George had spent $65 million to enhance the mountains. Improvements included the opening of China Bowl, new quad lifts, and the addition of the magnificent expert trails on Beaver Creek’s Grouse Mountain.
Also, there had been a steady increase in visits over the past five years, from 1,285,195 skiers in 1987 to 1,540,018 in 1992.
It took a while for the corporate managers and the mountain managers to meld. We were alien to each other at first. All sorts of efforts were made to make us comfortable together: get-acquainted cocktail parties; meetings with town officials; cookouts and picnics. It was all a little artificial, but eventually we became more trusting of each other.
I remember meeting Leon Black for the first time at an evening barbecue at Mid-Vail. I was impressed with his questions and with his general air of confidence about operating Vail. His wife and children were with him. They were all skiers. I said to Leon, “It looks to me as if you and your family are already hooked on Vail. It’s not just another corporation, it’s a home, Leon.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “We’re going to love this place.”
Editor’s note: This is the 66th installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter 13, entitled “Heart of the Rockies.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.