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Ski Granby Ranch's Quickdraw Express, seen here in December 2018. A malfunction in the lift's electrical driver contributed to an accident that killed a Texas mother when she was thrown from the lift. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)

The Brazilian owner of Granby Ranch is walking away from the 5,000-acre ski and golf community after 24 years, handing a lender the title to the Grand County property where she once planned a $600 million mega-resort.

“This has been a challenging period for us all,” Marise Cipriani wrote in a letter she hand-delivered to the Town of Granby’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday night, which was the town’s deadline for her providing money for road repairs in her resort community. “My family, the Granby Ranch employees and I have given over 20 years of our lives, through many ups and downs, to the realization of the vision for Granby Ranch. It is now time for a new chapter to be written under new ownership.”

Cipriani’s Granby Ranch Holdings is surrendering the property to lender Granby Prentice LLC to avoid foreclosure. Granby Prentice is a Delaware-based company that loaned the resort $55.84 million in April 2016, a month after the company formed. In the letter to town trustees, Cipriani said she was in the final stages of a sale to a Denver-based development firm when Granby Prentice “declined to proceed with a sale on terms acceptable to the buyer.”

Granby Prentice is joining with California-based real estate investment firm Pacific Coast Capital Partners to manage the resort property. Granby Ranch Amenities, the resort’s operator led by Cipriani’s daughter and son-in-law, will continue to run Ski Granby Ranch for the 2019-20 ski season. Opening day is set for Friday. 

“I think in the big picture, this is good for the development and it’s the right thing for the project. This is a multi-billion-dollar company that will own it, and they have more resources if they choose to develop it or if they find a development partner,” Granby Mayor Paul Chavoustie said. “In the end, this is a positive for the community.”

It’s certainly not positive for Cipriani. She and her husband, Celso, an executive at the Cipriani family’s now defunct Transbrasil airline, paid $12 million for the struggling Silver Creek ski area in 1995, nine years after the two founders of the ski area were killed in a plane crash at the Granby airport. 

Last year Cipriani announced she was selling the resort, where she had developed a golf course and a small ski village, but never came close to realizing her 20-year vision for a 5,500-unit mountain resort. 

A chairlift at Ski Granby Ranch, site of a fatal fall in December 2016. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)

This isn’t the first time Cipriani has lost a Grand County ski resort. In 2001 she shut down the lifts at the Berthoud Pass ski area, which she purchased in 1999 from the family of Jim Pearsall, who had spent years negotiating with the Forest Service for a permit to open the dormant ski area but died in a car accident before seeing skiers return to the historic hill in 1998. After a couple years shuttling skiers in snowcats, she closed Berthoud Pass for good, citing financial losses. She removed the chairlifts in 2003. In 2005, the Forest Service tore down the ski area’s mountain top lodge.

The last few years have been exceptionally hard for Granby Ranch and Cipriani. A lift malfunction ejected Kelly Huber and her two children in December 2016, killing the Texas mother and injuring her young daughters. The Huber family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the resort and contractors who worked on the chairlift. 

Last December, a month after Cipriani announced plans to sell, her sister sued her, slapping a court-ordered lien on the resort property after Cipriani defaulted on a loan from 2013. Homeowners around the resort who paid fees toward a lease-to-purchase deal for the resort company’s ski and golf assets began angling for a portion of any sale revenue. The Town of Granby demanded financial assurances to support road repairs at the resort, which is inside the town’s boundary. 

All these clouds lingered as Cipriani pursued a sale of the property, which runs along the Fraser River and borders public land. 

Granby Ranch owes the town for about $3 million in repairs to crumbling roads. Cipriani has $1.7 million in bonds for the repairs and, after she delayed those projects several times, saying a potential buyer was close to signing a deal that would include payment for road repair, the town set a deadline. She had until Dec. 10 — the last trustee meeting of the year — to pay for the repairs or the town could call the bond or put a lien on the resort’s properties. 

The town did both on Tuesday night when Cipriani delivered the letter explaining she was walking away after, she said, more than 70 investors expressed interest in Granby Ranch. She said she had nearly completed a deal with a Denver developer “with the resources and expertise to take Granby Ranch to the next level.” Chavoustie said he met with two potential buyers of the property in the last year. 

The owner of Grand County’s Granby Ranch ski area says she was close to selling the 5,000-acre resort she has owned since 1995. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The town is restricting sales of Granby Ranch Holdings properties and not issuing any building permits or certificates of occupancy until the $1.3 million gap in funding for road repairs is closed, Chavoustie said, noting that Granby Prentice and Pacific Coast Capital Partners are aware of the town’s restrictions on the property. 

Granby is no stranger to struggling developers. Village Homes, a major developer in Granby Ranch, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008. A year later the developer behind the luxury Orvis Shorefox golf and fishing resort collapsed in one of the largest bankruptcies in Grand County history.

Read more outdoors stories from The Colorado Sun.

Even though Granby Ranch has struggled to recover from the recession that ravaged resort real estate a decade ago, the Town of Granby is thriving. The town bought the 1,553-acre Orvis Shorefox property at the corner of U.S. 40 and 34 in 2016, paying $4.5 million to a Florida investment trust that had marketed it for $60 million in 2010 after taking it over from the previous developer. The town in 2018 sold 460 of those acres for $6.25 million to Sun Communities, the nation’s largest builder of manufactured home communities. Sun is developing 310 affordable modular homes for locals alongside a 1,100-site RV resort

“We pursued Shorefox and took lemons and made lemonade,” Chavoustie said, noting that the town protected the rest of the property as open space along the banks of the Colorado River. 

The town has no debt, and sales tax revenues are soaring, up 21% over last year. 

“This is prime time for someone to see the opportunity of Granby Ranch and come in and buy it,” Chavoustie said. 

Jason Blevins lives in Eagle with his wife, two teenage girls and a dog named Gravy. He writes The Outsider, a weekly newsletter covering the outdoors industry from the inside out. Topic expertise: Western Slope, public lands, outdoors,...