Intrawest resort faces Epic Pass challenges but hangs on to Front Range market-share lead
Summit County, CO Colorado
COPPER MOUNTAIN – Copper Mountain Resort officials generally side-stepped the subject of a potential resort sale during an annual state of the resort presentation Saturday, saying only that they would share any news about a deal as soon as they can.
“It’s the elephant in every room right now … It’s no secret. We’re going through challenging refinancing issues. The credit market is as tight as it was eight months ago,” said Copper Mountain president and chief operating officer Gary Rodgers.
Rodgers said he’s been part of the discussions about a potential sale and added that Intrawest has some new financing options that weren’t available eight months ago. But he stayed mum on any other details about possible suitors.
“Right now, there’s really no news I can share with you on that front. I will share that news with you before you read it in the paper,” he said to several hundred property owners assembled at the resort conference center.
Rodgers also chided the Summit Daily News for running a story about a potential sale of the resort that was based in part on questionable sources, including an unattributed blurb on a ski resort news website. The story also cited several sources at the resort, including independent merchants, condo owners, shop employees and others, who all reported hearing the same stories about potential buyers.
In previous attempts to report on the possible sale of the resort, all questions were referred to a corporate Intrawest spokesman in Vancouver, Ian Galbraith, who did say on the record for the most recent Summit Daily story that Intrawest is always looking for ways to “enhance the value” of its resorts.
Rodgers went on to outline the problems Copper faced in the past season and the challenges ahead.
“About a year ago things were rosy … then, storm clouds appeared on the horizon,” he said, referring to last autumn’s financial meltdown and the subsequent recession. He then obliquely referred to Intrawest staff cuts by citing “tough decisions” the resort had to make.
Copper was rocked by a couple of waves of layoffs, especially among mid-level managers. But the resort tried to make sure the guest experience wasn’t affected, Rodgers said.
“We decided to do everything in our power to protect our core products. We focused on not cutting anything from services,” he said. The resort saw great snowfall – 320 inches last season – and spent more than ever on grooming, he added.
Rodgers didn’t reveal Copper’s skier-visit numbers for last season. Most local areas saw skier visits drop by 5 to 10 percent, although some smaller areas boomed. Loveland had its best-ever season based purely on skier visit numbers, while Arapahoe Basin had its second-best year.
Copper execs passed on a mixed message about skier visits last winter. They acknowledged that Vail Resorts’ five-mountain epic pass diverted skiers from Summit to Eagle County, but also said Copper managed to take the biggest individual slice of the Front Range pie.
Rodgers said summer conference business helped as well as could be expected. The resort hopes to see growth in summer business with more events like concerts and bike racing, along with summer camps at Woodward.
Rodgers also said Copper met its energy saving goals cutting electricity use by 8 percent, natural gas use by 9 percent and diesel fuel use by 7 percent. No word on whether those declines corresponded with a similar drop in the number of winter visitors.
Also on the environmental front, Rodgers said Copper cut its contracts for renewable energy credits.
“We’re struggling with whether they are worth it,” Rodgers said, explaining that it’s not a permanent decision. Instead, the resort will invest resources in local projects with what he characterized as “immediate and lasting impacts,” for example by retrofitting lighting at the resort with energy-saving bulbs.
Rodgers said Copper may be just weeks or days away from getting final approval on a plan to expand parking at the Corn Lot, on the east side of Highway 91. Some work on that project could begin this fall, or next spring at the latest, he said.