Intrawest acquires largest heli-skiing operation in the world 

Intrawest, Whistler-Blackcomb’s parent company, has acquired the remaining 55 per cent interest in one of the word’s leading helicopter operators, Alpine Helicopters Ltd.

Intrawest first purchased 45 per cent of Alpine Helicopters in February 1999. The original purchase agreement included an option whereby, after five years, Intrawest could acquire the remaining interest in Alpine Helicopters.

Alpine Helicopters runs Canadian Mountain Holidays Inc., which offers heli-skiing and heli-hiking vacations throughout south-eastern British Columbia. CMH now provides more than 50 per cent of the heli-skiing visits in Canada and is the largest heli-ski operation in the world.

Through CMH, Alpine Helicopters also operates helicopter charter services to the tourism and forestry industries.

During the past five years, Alpine has increased its revenue by over 35 per cent and is expected to generate annual revenue of about $75 million US.

Tim McNaulty of Intrawest Investor Relations said Alpine Helicopters’ business had grown mostly because of the work that had been coming from the forestry sector during the past few summers.

"CMH is predominantly heli-skiing but in the off-season they do offer services to tourism and forestry, that being firefighting," said McNaulty. "And because of forest fires there’s been a large demand for firefighting equipment.

"A third part of (Alpine Helicopters’) business, is manufacturing certain equipment for helicopters so they’ve also made some profit there as well."

McNaulty said Alpine/CMH established itself in the industry by offering heli-skiing trips to remote lodges.

"They have 12 mountain terrain areas in south-eastern B.C. that they operate to and their speciality is remote mountain lodges and I think they’re one of the only ones that offer this service," he said.

Intrawest chairman Joe Houssain said he was happy with the investment because "CMH is one of the premier mountain experiences in the world" and the company has a proven track record.

Since 1965, CMH has offered heli-skiing. The company added heli-hiking in 1978. The company’s reputation is reflected in many ways, including the fact that about 70 per cent of people who use CMH re-book.

Alpine Helicopters and CMH operations will report through Intrawest’s newly created Leisure and Travel Group and should benefit from Intrawest's broader marketing platform.

The current Alpine Helicopters and CMH management teams will remain with the company.

"We expect it to immediately accredit Intrawest's fiscal 2005 financial results," said Hugh Smythe, CEO of Intrawest's Leisure and Travel Group.

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