Otten’s star on heavenly rise
With the merger of LBO Resort Enterprises and S-K-I Ltd. in 1996, which created American Skiing Company, Les Otten became a ski-industry mogul. Some call him the Bill Gates of the skiing industry.
Following the agreement last week to purchase Heavenly Ski Resort and Steamboat Ski Resort from Kamori International Corporation, Otten, 47, chairman of American Skiing Company, now leads an industry empire at the top of the snow mound.
Last ski season, the 11 resorts now under the banner of ASC Holdings, Inc. counted 4.9 million skier days. A similar combined showing in the coming season could make ASC No. 1 the charts of multi-resort corporations.
Other corporate players include Vail Resorts, previously considered the top resort group, Intrawest, Booth Creek Partners (which owns Sierra-at-Tahoe and Northstar), Powdr (which owns Alpine Meadows) and Boyne, USA.
In the style of Americana, Otten climbed up from near the bottom, a trait he may have learned from his father. Albert Otten lost his steelmaking fortune to Adolph Hitler and rebuilt it in the United States.
The younger Otten began his ski career among the workforce in 1971, spacing lift cables, painting lift towers and making snow at Killington.
By 1975, he was the general manager of Sunday River in Maine, owned by Sherburne Corp. which later evolved into S-K-I, Ltd.
With borrowed money, Otten purchased Sunday River from Sherburne in 1980. That year it posted 40,000 skier visits. Otten focused on improving lifts and trails rather than creating a flashy base lodge and led the resort through 16 years of record seasons.
In 1989, he was recognized as Inc. Magazine’s Turnaround Entrepreneur of the Year.
As the ski industry moved away from home-based, local ownership to a craze of acquisitions and consolidations, Otten chose to take an “active rather than a passive roll,” he said during a telephone interview on Friday.
In 1994, he acquired Attitash Ski Resort in New Hampshire. Cranmore, New Hampshire, and Sugarbrush Vermont followed in 1995.
In the 1996 merger with S-K-I, Ltd., the newly created American Skiing Company gained Mount Snow, Haystack, Killington and Sugarloaf/USA.
Under divestiture orders from United States Department of Justice, LBO’s Cranmore and S-K-I’s Waterville Valley were sold off.
With experience gained in building New England resorts, Otten was ready to expand the corporation’s geographical boundaries
“It was natural to go outside our New England base and spread across the country wherever we could find an opportunity,” he said.
Despite wielding considerable power in the ski industry, Otten seeks to maintain a home-grown image.
“As a company we’re passionate about skiing,” Otten said. “We do what we do because we love skiing. It allows senior management and lift operators to cross paths quite a bit …
“We don’t have a ‘grand poobah.'”
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