Aspen Ski Co. has agreed to buy Intrawest Resorts, driving the final nail in the coffin of the once-mighty ski empire and putting Mont Tremblant and Blue Mountain – arguably Eastern Canada’s two most popular ski hills – under new ownership.

In the blockbuster ski deal announced this week, Aspen will pay $1.5 billion for Tremblant, Blue and the four other properties Intrawest still owns: Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, Stratton in Vermont, and Snowshoe in West Virginia. Intrawest also owns Canadian Mountain Holidays, a heli-skiing and heli-hiking company with 13 lodges in British Columbia.

So what does this mean for Tremblant and the others? It’s probably good news.

Snowshoers walk past Blue Mountain near TorontoOnce the Canadian star of the hospitality industry, Intrawest has been on slow and steady decline since their peak in  the early 2000’s. In 2006, when it still dominated the North American ski market with a dozen ski hills and 8 villages, it’s flagship resort, Whistler Blackcomb,was acquired by private equity firm Fortress Investment Group in a highly leveraged deal. The bottom fell out of the market shortly after that and by 2009 Intrawest had sold off several more properties – incuding Copper Mountain, the Village at Squaw, New Jersey’s Mountain Creek, Florida’s Sandestin, France’s Les Arc and British Columbia’s Panorama.

Intrawest even owned Mont Ste. Marie for a few years, selling it off in 2002, before it’s the collapse began.

In an almost ironic twist of fate (but mostly just a reminder of the brutal reality of business) Intrawest actually bought Whistler from Aspen back in the 80’s.

So why is this good for Tremblant? Well with Intrawest out of the way it’s now a two horse race in the North American ski market, with Aspen Ski Co. battling it out with Vail Resorts, which just picked up Whistler Blackcomb last year for US$1.4 billion.

Both of these companies have deep pockets, a long-term view of their properties, and a real love of the mountains. Oh, and a love for million-dollar condos, of course. Vail’s purchase of Whistler coincided with the announcement of a $375-million expansion they call “the Renaissance plan“, to build more weather-independent facilities, improve on-mountain infrastructure and expand real estate offerings.

This move will bring much-needed, long-term financial stability and predictability to Intrawest’s properties. This is especially important in light of recent reports of the end of natural skiing due to global warming – having competent managers at the helm with a long-term vision will ensure that Mont Tremblant and Blue Mountain get the constant upgrades and improvements in snow-making and other equipment that will be necessary to continue operating as temperatures creep up and snow turns to rain.

Both companies are pushing to make their resorts more attractive to visitors year round, too – so expect to see continued support and expansion of mountain biking trails, golf courses, and other summer activities.

In other words, great news for the continued existence of these ski hills for the next generation!

There are no doubt drawbacks to having so much skiing controlled by two huge corporations – as there would be in any industry – but I personally believe that ski hills are in for the fight of their lives in the coming decade or two, and I feel a little more confident that these popular Ottawa destinations will be around.

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