Credit crisis hits Whistler-Blackcomb owners - courtesy of

Intrawest says ski resort operations not affected and business continues as usual

The operators of the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort in B.C. say it's business as usual, despite reports the owners are struggling to stop it from becoming a victim of the international credit crisis.

The Intrawest ski resort company has $1.68 billion in debt due Oct. 23, and the company's owner, New York-based Fortress Investment Group, is struggling to rearrange financing to keep the operation afloat, according to a report published in the Financial Times on Friday.

When contacted by the CBC, Fortress declined to comment, but a spokesman from Intrawest did issue a brief statement on Monday saying operations are expected to continue as normal.

"At our resorts it is business as usual and there will be no impact on our guests' vacation plans or season pass products," said Intrawest director of corporate communications Ian Galbraith in a statement issued on Monday.

"We are aware of recent press coverage on Fortress and Intrawest. These news reports are directly related to our parent company's efforts to refinance a term loan that has been in place since Fortress purchased Intrawest in 2006," he wrote.

"All of our resorts are making preparations for the winter season; our snowmakers are taking advantage of every opportunity to make snow and we're anticipating another great winter season," wrote Galbraith.

The Whistler-Blackcomb resort, north of Vancouver, is scheduled to host the alpine ski and sliding events of the Winter Olympics in February 2010.

VANOC, the organizer of the Vancouver Games, declined to comment on the situation on Monday.

According to Whistler-Blackcomb's website, the mountains will open on Nov. 27.

Whistler mayor concerned

Meanwhile the mayor of Whistler says he is concerned about the reports.

"We are concerned ... Whistler-Blackcomb is essential to our business. They are a critical factor and a key resort player," Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed told CBC News on Monday morning.

Intrawest's local operations include the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort and several hotels, making it the largest employer in the vacation town, according to Melamed.

However, Melamed said he believes it is very unlikely the local ski hill will be affected because the operation is generating a profit for the company.

"We understand also that Whistler-Blackcomb is the flagship of the Intrawest group of companies. And it has been profitable. It is the one that Intrawest will have the most interest in keeping operational," he said.

Fortress seeking financing for operation

Intrawest owns 10 ski operations and about 15 vacation resorts around North America, including Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Blue Mountain in Ontario, Panorama in British Columbia and two heli-skiing operations.

New York-based Fortress controls Intrawest via a $1.37-billion equity stake that it bought two years ago. People familiar with Fortress say there is a low probability Intrawest will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the Financial Times reported.

With Intrawest's debt trading at less than 70 cents on the dollar, Fortress has approached potential and existing lenders to discuss refinancing involving $1.4 billion in debt, the newspaper reported.

Founded in 1998, Fortress went public in February 2007 at $18.50 per share, in the first initial public offering by a U.S. private equity and hedge fund manager. Its shares closed at $5.50 on Thursday.

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