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Founder of ski empire steps down

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

The powerful executive who led the expansion of American Skiing Company into Park City cut ties Monday with the resort empire he founded and took public in the late 1990s.

"I leave the [board of directors] with mixed feelings," former American Skiing Company chief Leslie B. Otten said in a prepared statement. "It’s been a pleasure to serve and help guide the company and I wish everyone well. I truly enjoyed my tenure with the board, but now it’s time to look at other options."

Otten’s resignation comes on the heels of American Skiing Company agreeing to sell five of its eight resorts, which represents a significant downsizing of the company’s assets.

With sales pending of American Skiing Company’s Steamboat, Killington, Attitash, Mount Snow and Pico Mountain resorts, Tuesday, Otten’s reason for resigning was still unclear.

"A lot of the questions that have been asked — we really can’t say what [Otten’s] plans are and what he wants to do next," American Skiing Company Investor Relations Manager Dave Hirasawa said. "I’m not sure what [Otten’s] motivations are."

The board of directors for American Skiing Company, however, "hasn’t authorized us to take any other actions with regard to any other resorts, The Canyons (in Park City), Sunday River or Sugarloaf (in Maine), at this point," he insists.

"We’re in transition right now and as we clean up all these deals. That’s when you sit back and you say, you’re a lean, mean company," Chip Carey, a spokesman for American Skiing Company said. "Our focus right now is getting these [transactions] tied up and done."

But Tuesday the town of Bethel, Maine — site of East Coast corporate offices for American Skiing Company — was "rife with rumors," Bethel Town Manager Scott Cole said.

"How might things change, say, if you had local ownership, if Mr. Otten or Mr. Otten and an investment team came in and repurchased Sunday River-Sugarloaf?" Cole asked. "That’s the other rumor going around, is, that they’re both going to go."

He wouldn’t speculate, however, about why Otten resigned.

"He’s a businessman and he’s got a lot of irons in the fire," Cole said.

Meanwhile, Hirasawa also couldn’t say whether Otten wants to buy American Skiing’s two remaining resorts on the East Coast.

But Wolf Mountain Resorts principal Kenny Griswold, who leases land at The Canyons to American Skiing Company, worked closely with Otten in the ’90s developing the resort near Park City.

"It’s a beautiful day for everybody," Griswold said Tuesday about recent developments at American Skiing. "For ASC, for the community, for the state, everybody should feel good about the progress in the tourism and ski industry."

Currently Griswold is entwined in a lease battle with American Skiing Company as he attempts to wrestle back control of the resort.

"It’s a great day for Les Otten as well," Griswold continued. "And I’m proud of American Skiing, they sold five of eight resorts, I’m very excited for them."

Trading under the ticker symbol AESK, American Skiing Company stock sold Tuesday on the Over the Counter Bulletin Board for 60 cents per share.

This week Carey wouldn’t comment about how the downsizing could affect the size of the Park City-based company’s staff.

"It’s too early, only because we’re in a development stage," he said, adding that proceeds from the sales of the resorts could eliminate the company’s debt. "The number one thing I think we need to do right now is to close those deals as soon as we can."


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