Former Utah ski exec eyes governor’s mansion |

Former Utah ski exec eyes governor’s mansion

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

Les Otten, the one-time ski executive who was the architect of The Canyons revamp a decade ago, is campaigning to be the governor of Maine.

Otten was the founder of American Skiing Company, which was one of the largest operators of ski areas in North America. About seven years ago, American Skiing Co. negotiated an agreement with City Hall to move its corporate headquarters from Maine to Park City.

American Skiing Co. has since closed its office at the Gateway Center in Old Town. The company has ceased operations and its stock no longer trades on the Over the Counter Bulletin Board.

However, before the company’s demise, a lease Otten helped orchestrate between American Skiing Company and several Snyderville Basin landowners allowed the corporation to transform the former Wolf Mountain Resort into The Canyons.

Oakley resident Patrick Cone was a Summit County commissioner at the time.

"He had big dreams. Otten took an underutilized mountain, which was ParkWest and Wolf Mountain, and turned it into something that is an amazing thing today," Cone said. "Of course, what has happened since is something else. But when he first came here he had a vision for what he wanted to do."

Otten, a Republican, deserves much of the credit for forming The Canyons, Cone said.

"He may have overreached at points. But I think the legacy of what he decided to do is sitting in front of us as The Canyons ski resort," Cone said. "Whether [Otten] is suited for government? I think probably so. He seems like a visionary to me."

Before American Skiing Company fell into dissolution, The Canyons was sold to the Talisker Corp. development firm.

Park City businessman Michael Kaplan said he became friends with Otten after meeting the resort executive on Main Street more than eight years ago.

"We used to go skiing together at The Canyons," Kaplan said. "He would fly in and he would stay at the Grand Summit."

But eventually American Skiing Co. went broke, Kaplan explained.

"There are a lot of people who are bitter about him who bought into the whole Canyons thing. I hear about people who bought real estate at The Canyons in anticipation of the golf course and those people are certainly disappointed," Kaplan said. "[Otten] wanted me to invest money with him and I’m quite glad I didn’t considering the stock went from $24 down to 22 cents."

Ski exec declares his candidacy

Otten said in October that he wants to be governor of Maine.

"Nothing Les Otten does surprises me He gets knocked down and he gets up and brushes himself off and starts a new adventure," said Kaplan. "My best guess is he is going to run as a maverick, and I have my concerns only because he speaks his mind. Most politicians have to be a little bit more guarded."

Otten’s campaign Web site touts him as someone who "has been creating jobs and promoting Maine for nearly four decades in a wide range of pursuits including business, tourism, alternative energy, community development and philanthropy."

His career in the ski industry began taking off as he transformed Maine’s struggling Sunday River ski area into one of America’s most successful resorts, the Web site states.

Otten did not respond to requests for a telephone interview.

With party caucuses in Maine about three weeks away, Otten released a new television advertisement this week with a pledge not to raise taxes if he is elected governor.

The race for the open gubernatorial office has drawn more than 20 candidates from various political backgrounds, said Amy Fried, a professor of political science at the University of Maine.

"I think a Republican can win," Fried said in a telephone interview.

The large number of independent voters in Maine might support a candidate who is a conservative maverick, she said.

"I think a candidate of that sort could do very well," Fried said.

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