Intrawest goes heli-skiing
In 1998 they added their first warm weather resort and an interest in 12 European ski resorts. For 1999, Intrawest has ventured into the heli-skiing business.
Just four days into the new year Intrawest announced plans to acquire 45 per cent of the largest heli-skiing operation in the world, Canadian Mountain Holidays.
Intrawest expects to close on its purchase of Alpine Helicopters Ltd., the parent company of CMH, in the next 60 days. Intrawest also has plans to acquire the remaining 55 per cent of Alpine in the next five years.
"They were looking for a Canadian-based partner and we understand their culture and service mentality," said Daniel Jarvis, executive vice president and chief financial officer for Intrawest.
CMH, which was founded in 1965 by Hans Gmoser, was one of the first companies in the world to offer heli-skiing. The company operates 30 helicopters, owns six lodges and offers heli-skiing vacations in 11 areas in south-eastern B.C. CMH holds 20-year licences of occupation for each heli-ski area. Each licence covers approximately 2,000 square kilometres.
CMH has annual revenues of $44 million, which puts it among the larger mountain resort operations in North America and easily the largest heli-ski operation in the world. Approximately 50 per cent of CMH’s customers are from the United States and 40 per cent from Europe. The company’s reputation internationally is reflected in the fact that 70 per cent of customers are repeat visitors.
"This puts us in touch with the most loyal skiers on the planet — skiers who will expand the destination visitor base that is at the heart of our growth strategy," said Joe Houssian, Intrawest’s chairman and CEO.
Jarvis said CMH "is well known among expert skiers in Europe, and this (purchase) will raise the profile of Intrawest in Europe."
Whether there is any overlap between customers of Intrawest’s other mountain resorts — including Whistler-Blackcomb, Stratton, Tremblant and Copper — and CMH customers remains to be seen.
"There may be, but we don’t know the answer to that yet," Jarvis said.
Unlike all other resorts Intrawest owns, there is little real estate or development potential with the CMH operations.
"It’s mostly a ski experience," Jarvis said.
He added Intrawest was interested in CMH because the company "continues to look for unique resorts which have a brand name and a loyal following."
Jarvis said CMH has been expanding its summer business, with heli-hiking and mountaineering trips, and Intrawest should be able to help the company in that area.
"This is a unique situation in the ski industry," Houssian said in a release. "CMH is a real icon. There is nothing else like this now, and in our opinion it cannot be replicated anywhere in the world. The size of all their permitted ski areas is substantially larger than the skiable terrain within Intrawest’s existing network of resorts."
Gmoser, the Austrian who founded CMH more than 30 years ago and who has come to symbolize heli-skiing, is still involved with the company, but Jarvis described his role as more of an honorary position.
CMH’s customers are predominantly in their mid-40s to early 50s, with a significant number of customers over 55 — a demographic that is growing as the first baby boomers are now in their early 50s.