British Columbia

Grouse Mountain Resort's Chinese investor 'silent,' says new Canadian owner

A popular Vancouver-area ski hill has been sold to a partnership that includes Shanghai-based China Minsheng Investment Group, the resort has announced.

North Vancouver ski resort was put up for sale in September by family that owned it for decades

Grouse Mountain Resort in North Vancouver has been sold by the McLaughlin family. (Andrea Schaffer/Flickr)

A popular Vancouver-area ski hill, Grouse Mountain Resorts, has been sold for an undisclosed amount to a partnership that includes Shanghai-based China Minsheng Investment Group, the resort has announced.

The Vancouver-based McLaughlin family, which has controlled the resort for more than 40 years, put the North Vancouver landmark up for sale in September.

The new owner is GM Resorts Limited Partnership, an entity created by CM (Canada) Asset Management Co. Ltd. with about 60 per cent Canadian investors, and Chinese investment firm CMIG.

"We understand that Grouse Mountain is treasured by locals and visitors alike," said Kenny Zou, director of CM Canada.

"People should expect the very same Grouse Mountain experience they've been getting."

Chinese firm 'silent investors'

As speculation swirled about the sale of what had been a locally owned resort, much attention was paid to the rumoured involvement of CMIG, which is now confirmed as having a 40 per cent stake.

The new owners of Grouse Mountain Resorts have no plans to change anything at the North Vancouver landmark, said CM Canada director Kenny Zou. (CBC)

Zou said the Chinese group will be "silent investors," and all operating decisions will be made by CM Canada, a "completely Canadian company through and through."

CMIG's involvement is part of a larger trend of Chinese companies investing in resort and tourism assets in North America, said a U.S. analyst who focuses on the sector.

"A lot of it is getting capital out of their home country," said Michael Bellisario, vice-president and senior research analyst at investment bank Baird.

"We're seeing that up and down the West Coast … with other deals from other Chinese companies looking to park capital in global gateway cities."

Other recent ski resort sales have seen consolidation in the industry, with Vail Resorts buying Whistler Blackcomb and Aspen Skiing Co. buying Intrawest.

However, that's not the case here, as CM Canada doesn't have other ski resort properties.

4-season draw for investors

Ski resorts can be a risky business, with a dependence on snow precarious in a changing climate — something Grouse has had to grapple with.

One of Grouse Mountain's snow guns operates in November 2014 ahead of that season's opening. (Grouse Mountain/Facebook)

But Zou said the resort is attractive to investors because of how the previous owners diversified it, with zipline tours, restaurants, a wind turbine observatory and other attractions.

"A day like today, the parking lot is almost full, we see people going up the tram," said Zou on Tuesday in an interview at Grouse.

"Of course, we can't control the weather, but we're doing everything we can making sure guests can come here on an all-season basis."

Bellisario said a possible upside of a sale to an investment group — compared with a single family — could be deep pockets to make future upgrades to lifts or other equipment.

But Zou said there are no immediate plans for any changes, beyond maintaining the current infrastructure, and no plans to change management or other staff.

The Eye of the Wind turbine atop North Vancouver's Grouse Mountain has an observation pod for visitors just below the massive blades. (Grouse Mountain)

With files from CBC Radio's The Early Edition