Friday, January 15, 2010

Ski resort financing


The lure of skiing creates strange and interesting partners. Take this story of the connection between Telluride, Colo., and Basel, Switzerland.

The first time I saw Telluride, 30 years ago, I was awestruck with its natural beauty. As I drove slowly down the Main Street, I realized all I had to do was turn on my camera and I would have the award-winning, people-moving, promotional movie the client had hired me to produce.

The man who showed me around town and skied for my cameras had lived there since the old mining days. He was reported to be a good skier. I found out he was a great skier. He had managed to survive in Telluride for almost 20 years after the mines closed and had bought three Victorian houses for $25 each. He would have bought more but couldn't afford to.

The film I produced for Telluride worked well and my next film production job was a ski film for the French government and Air France. My Telluride client asked if I would take his film with me to Europe and show it to the Swiss company that had put up the money to build his first two chairlifts.

So, two weeks later in Basel, I walked into a building that looked like a 1935 bank building in a major industrial city anywhere in the world. It was gray, formal and drab outside, and intimidating inside. As I walked across the wide, marble-floored room, my cowboy boots made alarmingly loud sounds.

I waited, waited and waited for Herr Director. While waiting, I was attracted to the only thing visible on any of the dark mahogany walls. It was a framed document that upon closer examination became an antique, hand-written accounting page. The date on it seemed to be very misleading because it was dated June 7, 1542.

Later at lunch, Herr Director said, "Yes, the date was correct. It is a document from the first year this company was in business. We have been doing business at the same location for over 400 years."

Their primary business was financing wool merchants, not ski resort developers. Most of the wool came from Australia and New Zealand. Their vast holdings of sheep in Australia and New Zealand were so large that they went into the shipping business. All during World War II their company shipped their wool from Sydney, Australia, to Genoa, Italy. They shipped it by train to Switzerland where it was woven into fabric. The fabric was sold and shipped to Germany where it was made into uniforms for the German army.

It's a long, convoluted journey from raising sheep in the outback of Australia, to Italy, to Switzerland and to Germany—where the gold from the sale was earned by a 400-year-old Swiss company, and eventually loaned to a man in Beverly Hills so he could build the first ski lifts in Telluride.

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