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Not Your Average Ski Swap: Five Northwest Ski Areas Change Hands

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
File photo of The Summit at Snoqualmie

Five Northwest ski resorts have changed hands in about the past month in a series of unrelated deals. The ownership of Stevens Pass and The Summit at Snoqualmie in the Washington Cascades and Cypress Mountain by West Vancouver changed in a 15-mountain transaction announced late Wednesday between a trio of holding companies back East.

The local resorts say skiers are unlikely to notice the change because the ski areas are leased and run by separate operating companies that will stay the same.

Florida-based real estate investment trust CNL Lifestyle Properties sold a package of resort holdings stretching from Maine to the West Coast to two buyers for $830 million in cash and stock. New York hedge fund manager Och-Ziff picked up most of the ski area properties in the deal -- valued at $374 million -- including the Pacific Northwest resorts.

Two other recent resort sales have interesting wrinkles. A YouTube video celebrity with fond memories of skiing at Pebble Creek near Pocatello, Idaho, bought that break-even ski area from local investors for an undisclosed sum. The buyer, who goes by Shay Carl on the internet, is a Pocatello native with the real name of Shay Butler.

"I am a skier at heart, man. I am going to make decisions about this mountain as a skier first," Butler said. "I'm not going to do anything that the local community wouldn't like."

In a video posted to the Pebble Creek Ski Area's Facebook page, Butler said positioning the resort to open in summer as well as winter for activities such as mountain biking is on his agenda.

Meanwhile, a Seattle-area real estate investor has bought Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, Idaho, east of Spokane. The ski area, its three-mile long gondola, golf course, indoor water park, commercial space and lodgings sold for what seems like a bargain price of $5 million. Silver Mountain was the last of a half-dozen resort properties unloaded by Jeld-Wen, formerly a family-owned Oregon company, now a building products conglomerate based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Silver Mountain sales price was disclosed in a federal securities filing. The filing indicated a previous buyer backed out of a planned purchase of the North Idaho resort in 2013 even though that meant forfeiting a $1.2 million escrow deposit.

In the same securities filing, Jeld-Wen reported it cut the price of the current sale to Kenmore, Washington, businessman Tryg Fortun from $6 million to $5 million for undisclosed reasons. This followed a "diligence period."

"I think I probably paid market [value]," said Fortun in an interview Friday. "I was very happy with the price, but ski areas tend to be complicated. I think global warming is real and there are challenges that ski areas face now."

"By and large, it's certainly not making a lot of money," Fortun said regarding the resort's balance sheet. "We need to have more skier visits here."

The buyer, who is an avid skier himself, said he wants to raise the resort's profile and recognition in the Pacific Northwest.

"It was just a great delight to find Silver Mountain, someplace I could ski powder all day long," Fortun said. "That is what drew me here."

Fortun said he plans to keep the current management team in place while exploring possible improvements to the ski area and golf course.

Silver Mountain Resort and its surrounding small towns lie within a federal Superfund cleanup area due to heavy metals pollution from historic mining and smelting activity. Considerable cleanup work has been performed, but contractors working on the resort's half-completed golf course had to follow precautions to avoid spreading lead residue.

A program manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ongoing Coeur d'Alene Basin cleanup said Friday that the resort property has been "remediated" and no cleanup liabilities would carry over to the new owner.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.