Creditors plan auction of stake in Olympic ski venues

By Emily Chasan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Creditors of Intrawest Holdings, which owns the Whistler ski resort where part of the Winter Olympics are set to take place next month, plan to put their stake in the company on the auction block in February.

The lenders represented by Wilmington Trust FSB will conduct a public auction for their membership interests in the resort holding company on February 19 in New York, according to a notice published in major newspapers on Tuesday.

The auction will occur in the middle of the Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to begin February 12. Whistler, which is north of Vancouver, will host the alpine ski events.

Private equity firm Fortress Investment Group LLC bought the company, which owns the Whistler Blackcomb resorts in Canada, Squaw Valley in California and Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, for $2.8 billion in 2006.

"Serious discussions with Intrawest's lenders are ongoing regarding refinancing and the Company continues to operate 'business as usual' at all of its resort properties," Intrawest said in a statement on Wednesday.

The company has been struggling with $1.7 billion in debt that it took on as part of the Fortress deal.

Membership interests would be sold to qualified bidders, such as financial institutions or other entities, that have the financial wherewithal to buy the stake in the company with immediately available funds, the notice said.

Intrawest owns 16 resort properties and interests in other land parcels and businesses, the notice said.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Winter Olympics, said it continues to support Intrawest's efforts to settle its "outstanding financial matters."

"Whistler Blackcomb is an important partner in the staging of the 2010 Games and we continue working in very close partnership with them to finalize overall preparations and readiness for the skiing and sliding sport events," Dan Doyle, the executive vice president of construction for the Vancouver Organizing Committee said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Vancouver Organizing Committee said the potential auction will not disrupt the Olympics, and Intrawest has been keeping them fully informed about its negotiations over the debt.

"We are very confident the Games will go on at those two venues, and they will go on with the cooperation of the people who are running the mountain," Doyle told reporters at a media event on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Emily Chasan; additional reporting by Allan Dowd; editing by Andre Grenon, Tim Dobbyn and Robert MacMillan)