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Squaw Valley USA being sold to Colorado investment firm

By: AP and Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Owners of the Lake Tahoe-area ski resort that hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics have agreed to sell Squaw Valley USA to a Colorado-based investment firm that's pledging $50 million in improvements over the next five years, company officials said. KSL Capital Partners LLC entered into the agreement to acquire the majority of the shares of the Squaw Valley Development Co. in a deal that includes the California resort's ski operations, the Village at Squaw Valley and related real estate holdings, Squaw Valley President and CEO Andy Wirth told The Associated Press. For Auburn-area skiers, the executive director of the 1,000-member Auburn Ski Club said he can only see it as a positive step in the evolution of the sport of skiing in Placer County. “I think it’s a good thing,” the ski club’s Bill Clark said Wednesday. “To me, the mountain is always there – the legacy never changes. It’s just another step in the evolution.” Squaw Valley is popular with Auburn-area skiers – an iconic slope that has stood the test of time and new trends, Clark said. “It’s one of the first big mountains (for California skiing),” Clark said. “It’s certainly a favorite of everybody’s from all over the region.” Wirth said the sale price won't be made public, but he confirmed in an interview with AP that KSL agreed to $50 million in capital improvements over three to five years at the resort atop the Sierra Nevada, about 40 miles west of Reno. The sale represents one of the single-biggest real-estate deals in Placer County history. Eric Resnick, KSL's co-founder and managing director, said the Denver-based firm specializing in travel and leisure was enticed by the history and future potential of what has become one of the largest and best known ski resorts in the world since it opened in 1949. Its founder, Alexander C. Cushing, was credited with helping launch the sport in the U.S. by landing the 1960 Winter Games. ``With Squaw Valley USA, Alex Cushing made a profound impact on the snow-sports industry and we're honored to build upon the resort's legacy,'' Resnick said in a statement. KSL's properties include Vail Mountain Lodge in Vail, Colo., The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va.; Barton Creek Resort and Spa in Austin, Texas; and Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. Wirth will remain in the position he assumed in August as president and CEO. He said the deal has the blessings of Cushing's widow, Nancy Cushing. She stepped down as president and CEO this summer but remains chairman of the board and a number of family members have continued to maintain holdings in the company. ``This has been a family owned and operated asset with a proud heritage so there is a lot of very understandable passion for the place,'' Wirth told AP. ``It is with a respectful eye for that past that we advance Squaw Valley into a whole new era.'' ``It has lost some of its presence, lost some of its position,'' he said about increased competition in the form of recent capital improvements at other area resorts. ``We are determined to make it again one of the best if not the best.'' Nancy Cushing said Squaw Valley and the Cushing family ``have been synonymous for more than 60 years.'' ``Alex's dream was to create a world-class, four-season destination resort in one of the most beautiful places in the world,'' she said in a statement Tuesday. ``This transaction will result in the culmination of that dream by providing the necessary resources to ensure Squaw Valley's continued improvement and success for generations to come,'' she said. Squaw Valley, with a vertical drop of 2,850 feet, covers parts of six mountain peaks over 4,000 acres — some of it with views of Tahoe's north shore about 8 miles away. Skiers walk into the resort under the same Olympic rings that greeted Olympians at the first Winter Games ever televised in 1960. Wirth said the $50 million in improvements planned at Squaw Valley is an ``impressive number'' that will be spent on ``culinary services, food and beverage, guest experiences — everything from the lift operations and ticket checkers to the staff in the parking lot.'' A heavy emphasis will be placed on enhanced snow making, grooming and snow surface quality, as well as improving offerings for families, including ski schools and child care programs. ``We know the family market and intermediate skiing market is an area for Squaw to improve on,'' said Wirth, who joined Squaw Valley in August after working as an executive at Intrawest in both Vancouver, B.C., and Steamboat, Colo. ``The mountain itself is without compare. The closest thing in North America is Whistler Blackcomb in Vancouver.'' Resnick and KSL co-founder Michael Shannon have a long history in the skiing industry. Both serve as board members for the United States Ski & Snowboard Team Foundation and Resnick is on the Organizing Committee of the 2015 World Alpine Ski Championships. Shannon was president from 1985-92 of Vail Associates, a predecessor company to the Colorado-based Vail Resorts, which bought the nearby Northstar-at-Tahoe for $63 million in October. Vail Resorts also operates Heavenly ski resort straddling the California-Nevada line at the south end of Lake Ta