The recent merger between Vail Resorts and Ralcorp brings five of Colorado’s biggest mountain resorts — Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin — under one corporate umbrella. For mountain resorts like Whistler which compete with Vail, the consequences are obvious: the Colorado company now has even greater resources for marketing and purchasing and a wider range of resort experiences to offer. The merger is also another step toward the corporate world for mountain resorts. In the midst of a $150 million expansion at Vail, the resort’s parent company is planning a public stock offering this fall. With Vail gaining a profile on Wall Street it may not be long before someone like Disney gets involved in the industry. But back here at ground zero, in mountain resort towns, is where the buck starts. If locals and visitors aren’t both happy with the experience there’s nothing to build on. Mountain resort towns are like many other company towns, where the major employer — the lift company — often dominates local politics and the economy and sets the agenda. Whistler is fortunate to have two lift companies, competing on a relatively even basis but also working together for the whole resort. Neither Blackcomb nor Whistler Mountain dominates the local scene and the competition between the two has generally benefited the resort. Until this year Intrawest, Blackcomb’s parent company, was the largest mountain resort operator on the continent, owning Panorama, Mont Tremblant, Stratton, Snowshoe and one-third of Mammoth Mountain, in addition to Blackcomb. As a public company Intrawest’s responsibility to its shareholders is to grow and increase returns on investment. The company has stated its intention to buy more mountain resorts and the Ralcorp trio was likely high on its list. In the wake of the Vail merger it’s easy to see how Intrawest could be tempted to make a pitch to buy Whistler Mountain Ski Corporation, as it has been rumoured to have done several times in the past. The agreement between Whistler Mountain and Intrawest to build the Taluswood development reinforces such a scenario. But that would not be in the best interest of the community or the resort. Intrawest’s roots are in Blackcomb — rather than New York or Toronto — and the company would no doubt have the best interest of the community in mind. But unlike many other company-town mountain resorts Whistler has thrived on the diversity of people and companies that make up the resort. We hope that continues.

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