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Heavenly joins East Coast Family

Sally J. Taylor

American Skiing Company’s family of resorts gathered Heavenly Ski Resort into its fold in 1997, including the 42-year-old resort in a growing trend toward mega-ski corporations.

The $288.3 million dollar purchase of Heavenly, Steamboat Ski Resort in Colorado and other holdings of Kamori International Corporation closed on Nov. 12. To raise funds for the acquisition, ASC opened Nov. 6 as a publicly traded company on the American Stock Exchange.

Heavenly’s new family includes The Canyons Ski Resort in Utah and the northeastern resorts of Sunday River and Sugarloaf/USA ski resorts in Maine, Attitash Bear Peak Ski Resort in New Hampshire, Killington/Pico, Mount Snow/Haystack and Sugarbush ski resorts in Vermont.



“Heavenly is a marvelous asset in a great community,” Les Otten, ASC’s chairman and chief executive officer, said earlier this year. Heavenly “has some of the best views, with a great international market and a town that appreciates skiing.”

When the ski industry moved away from home-based, local ownership to a craze of acquisitions and consolidations, Otten, who began his ski career in lift maintenance in 1971, chose to take an “active rather than a passive roll,” he said.



The acquisitions of Heavenly and Steamboat could push ASC Holdings, Inc. to the top of the ski hill. In the 1996-’97 ski season, the 11 resorts now owned by ASC generated about 4.9 million skier and snowboarder visits. A similar combined showing in the current season could make ASC No. 1 on the charts of multi-resort corporations.

Being part of a big, mostly East Coast family, Heavenly can expect increased exposure to eastern skiers through ASC’s corporate promotions.

“Tahoe is well known among western skiers but not as well known in other parts of the country,” said ASC Director of Communications Skip King, who called the Tahoe area, with its “heart-stopping beauty,” his favorite place to ski.

“A lot of northeastern skiers have never seen the beauty shots of the mountain and lakes. When they see them for the first time, their jaws drop.”

Don’t expect a huge influx right away, however. Tahoe’s lack of direct airport connections between New England and Reno could slow the stream, King said.

What Heavenly skiers can expect on the horizon is package deals with the rest of the ASC family and technology to streamline ski vacations.

Beyond such corporate-family perks, just what ASC will mean to Heavenly in the long run remains to be seen.

The corporation remains reticent to talk publicly about any planned capital improvements, including its attitude to Heavenly’s recently approved master plan. The new plan includes extensive erosion controls, infrastructure improvements and a gondola to connect the resort to the city’s Park Avenue Redevelopment Project in the Stateline corridor.

“We’ve learned, generally, in most cases, not to talk about future development plans until we’re sure what’s going to happen,” King said.

“It’s a courtesy to skiers,” he said. Because plans can change a lot, talking too soon can be a “slippery slope.”

ASC officials have maintained the company does not intend to shake up the resort’s personnel. However, a change of titles has left some wondering. For instance, Dennis Harmon, now the resort’s “managing director,” was, under Kamori, Heavenly’s president and CEO.

The term is an internal title adopted a few years ago, King said, and does not denote any reduction in responsibility.

Despite wielding considerable power in the ski industry, Otten seeks to maintain a home-grown image.

“As a company, we’re passionate about skiing,” he said earlier this year. “We do what we do because we love skiing. It allows senior management and lift operators to cross paths quite a bit.”


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