Last week, Squaw Valley announced that the ski area was being sold to a Denver-based private equity firm called KSL Capital Partners, which has committed to spending over $50 million in capital improvements over the next three to five years. The sale price has not been released, but the deal is expected to close by the end of 2010.
Squaw Valley has been owned by the Cushing family for the last 60 years. Squaw's founder, Alex Cushing, died in 2006. Alex's widow, Nancy Cushing, has served as Squaw's CEO since 1994. She resigned as CEO this summer and in August, Andy Wirth, who had previously worked for Steamboat Ski Resort and Intrawest, was hired as the new CEO.
"Squaw Valley and the Cushing family have been synonymous for more than 60 years," said Nancy Cushing. "Alex's dream was to create a world-class, four-season destination resort in one of the most beautiful places in the world. 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."
Before the sale, Squaw was one of a diminishing group of major family-owned ski areas in the country, which includes Utah's Alta, Solitude and Beaver Mountain, New Mexico's Taos, Washington's Mt. Baker and Colorado's Wolf Creek.
Before Squaw, the last major family-owned ski areas to sell to a corporation were Crested Butte, Colo., and Okemo, Vt. Tim and Diane Mueller, who owned Crested Butte and Okemo, as well as operated New Hampshire's state-owned Mt. Sunapee, sold to a real estate investment trust in Dec. 2008. They retained a lease on the ski areas, however, and now, along with their two children, the Muellers are still heavily involved in the daily operations of the resorts.
Taos is one of very few ski areas that is still owned by the family of its original founder, Ernie Blake, who started the ski area in 1954. "It makes us proud to be one of the last family-owned ski areas," says Adriana Blake, Taos' administrative manager and granddaughter to Ernie. "It is kind of a dwindling thing."
When asked if the Blakes have any plans to sell in the future, Adriana told ESPN that when Ernie's 13 grandchildren met most recently to discuss the future of the ski area, "this generation decided to keep plugging away."
At Squaw, the new buyers are confident that they can retain and improve upon the heritage left behind by the Cushings. "With Squaw Valley USA, Alex Cushing made a profound impact on the snowsports industry and we're honored to build upon the resort's legacy," says Eric Resnick, KSL's managing director. KSL has invested in hotels and spa resorts from California to Arizona. KSL's founders, Resnick and Michael Shannon, are board members for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Foundation and the Vail Valley Foundation.
Squaw's new CEO Andy Wirth agreed. "KSL's pending acquisition of Squaw Valley is great news for our guests and our dedicated, hardworking team," said Wirth. "KSL's expertise in hospitality, recreation, and guest service will provide the support and resources for Squaw Valley's talented management team to advance the resort's enterprise-wide focus on the guest experience."