Maxed out 

The family jewels

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We are fa-mi-ly. Whistler-Blackcomb, all of you and me.

Like most families, we have our ups, we have our downs. We fight, we bicker, we punch, we argue about who’s hogging more of the back seat than they have a right to, we call each other names that sometimes push the boundaries of terms of endearment.

Of course, we have marvelous times together as well. We enjoy each other’s company. We help each other, try to respect what we’ve grown up to be and, let’s be honest here, we love each other. If we didn’t, we’d be living some place else.

But like sibs who have grown to adulthood, we don’t always like each other’s friends, spouses and new relatives. Some of them are not particularly interesting. Some are self-absorbed, greedy, rapacious, pompous know-it-alls we wouldn’t want to share a seat on a bus with. C’est la vie, dude.

By the time this column hits the mean streets of Tiny Town, Whistler-Blackcomb’s partner — owner, actually — may well have joined a welter of others under the crowded umbrella of Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy code. We feel our brother’s pain. It is our pain as well.

I’m not trying to cause a panic and I’m not saying anything that isn’t already hanging out there in public. Almighty Fortress, like so many players in the funny money game, is watching parts of itself disappear faster than turkey thighs at Thanksgiving, most noticeably the parts that represent “value”, vanishing like a fart in the breeze, and access to credit, a quaint former business practice — like profit — that’s almost ceased to exist.

Today, Thursday, is one of Fortress’s come-to-Jesus moments. Around $1.68 billion of Intrawest debt, owed to a consortium of creditors, comes due. People who are reported to be “close” to the negotiations between Fortress and its creditors do not believe all of them will agree to roll the debt; any holdout will scotch the deal absent a new player agreeable to the others. The debt will become due and payable, due being unavoidable, payable being problematic.

If this is the first you’ve heard about these particular events, now would be a good time to take a deep breath. The sky is not falling, the world is not ending. Whistler-Blackcomb will open on or before schedule, Ullr will bless us with copious snow, we shall slide downhill, literally, while all things economic continue to slide downhill figuratively.

Chapter 11 is a safehaven where overstretched companies go to try and reorganize their business. It allows them to conduct business as not quite usual while they work with creditors on a go-forward plan. Sometimes companies emerge more or less intact; sometimes they don’t. When they don’t — and even sometimes when they do — valuable assets of the company get sold off to raise cash so that what’s left of the company can celebrate a future instead of a past.

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