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In Transit Blog: CNL Adds Stevens Pass to Its Ski Resorts

Stevens Pass, a snow-smothered ski area 78 miles east of Seattle that is beloved by Northwesterners, was sold last month. It wasn’t big news, unless you noticed the buyer: CNL Lifestyle Properties.

Julian Tracy/Stevens PassStevens Pass, a resort near Seattle, was bought last month by CNL Lifestyle Properties.

Stevens Pass is the 17th ski resort in which CNL Lifestyle Properties has full ownership or is a major investor. This Orlando-based company has in the last decade quietly surpassed the giants Vail Resorts and Intrawest to become the largest owner of ski resorts in the nation. Often, CNL buys the properties and then leases them back to the former owners. Its resorts include marquee names like Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado, Sunday River and Sugarloaf in Maine and Northstar California and Sierra at Tahoe in California. Last year nearly one in 10 visits to ski areas nationwide was to a CNL Lifestyle Properties mountain.

So what does its growth mean for skiers?

CNL has no plans to exert broad, cookie-cutter development plans across its resorts but expects skiers to feel its influence indirectly, particularly in capital improvements that previous owners might otherwise have had trouble financing, said Steve Rice, a one-time ski patroller at Stowe who oversees the portfolio that includes the ski areas. For example, Mr. Rice said, “At Sugarloaf we’re building a new lift that is higher capacity, faster, more wind resistant.”

CNL’s emergence has “been beneficial to the industry,” said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. “They’ve been the perfect financial vehicles for people who wanted to sell their resort, realize the benefit of the sale, but continue to operate it.”

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