Credit Suisse and the collapse of the West’s most posh ski and golf resorts

The posh Battle Mountain ski-and-golf-resort was slated for this area near the abandoned mining town of Gilman that edges an EPA Superfund site. (Photo/Tom Boyd)

The posh Battle Mountain ski-and-golf-resort was slated for this area near the abandoned mining town of Gilman that edges an EPA Superfund site. (Photo/Tom Boyd)

A March 5 article in Bloomberg Markets Magazine paints a picture of wild excess in the high-end mountain resort development game, starting with the recent failure of Tamarack Resort in Idaho, the bankruptcy of the private Yellowstone Club in Montana and ending with Florida’s Bobby Ginn.

Ginn is the Colorado connection in the piece, buried deep in the lengthy story. As reported by the Colorado Independent in May 2008, the Ginn Company overwhelmingly won an election in Minturn, a small town off the backside of Vail Mountain; the win cleared the way for his massive Battle Mountain resort.

Ginn’s 5,300 acres of private land, purchased for $32 million in 2005, represent the largest undeveloped tract of private land in the upper reaches of the Vail Valley — and one of the true gems in all of Colorado ski country. But the parcel has a long and twisted history of mining, pollution (parts are an EPA Superfund cleanup site), land speculation and legal intrigue.

Ginn’s plans for a private ski area and golf course between the two former mining and railroad towns of Minturn and Red Cliff, within skiing distance of Vail, now appear stalled by the collapsed economy and a tangle of lawsuits. But a recent Rocky Mountain News story failed to mention Ginn’s inability to repay a staggering $675 million Credit Suisse loan.

That was the biggest loan floated by Credit Suisse — the Swiss banking giant that aggressively pedaled its risky products — to a slew of high-end resorts in the West catering to the über-rich. Yellowstone, founded by timber baron Tim Blixseth in the 1990s, pioneered the private-ski-club concept off the backside of Big Sky, Mont. Ginn’s emulation now seems shaky at best.

With several Ginn affiliates filing for bankruptcy protection in Florida in December, Ginn’s timing once again looks suspect. In 1988 he filed for personal bankruptcy after the collapse of his holding on Hilton Head, S.C., where, according to Bloomberg, bumper stickers reading “Honk If Bobby Owes You” became common.

In Minturn, one of the few opponents of the Battle Mountain project, Frank Lorenti, runs an “I-told-you-so” Web site called the Minturn Times, on which he demands the release of millions in Ginn money promised for badly needed infrastructure projects like a new wastewater treatment plant.

Finally, one of the big knocks on the Battle Mountain project has been that it lacks water rights for 1,700 homes at high altitude, but the Ginn Company is pursuing a $30 million water right currently owned by the city of Pueblo. When and if it can purchase the water and move the project along remains a huge question mark.

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About the Author

David O. Williams

is an award-winning reporter who has covered energy, environmental and political issues for years. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Denver Post. He's founder of Real Vail
and Real Aspen.

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