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Race for French ski resort nears finish

By James Mackintosh and Raphael Minder in Paris Published in the Financial Times: November 27 2000 11:02GMT

A corporate drama on France's Alpine peaks appeared close to an end at the weekend as a large French ski operator was set to take full control of Méribel's ski slopes from a tiny British-run company.

Compagnie des Alpes (CdA) is offering to buy the final shares in Méribel Alpina, which runs the popular Méribel-Mottaret resort, in the final act of a tussle that pitched British skiers against French politicians keen to give the state a stake in the business. Méribel Alpina was founded by a British army colonel after the second world war. David Lindsay, son of the founder, sits on the board and the company, although French, had until recently a large number of British shareholders.

CdA, the world's largest ski operator with more than 10m skiers using its resorts each year, has spent the past five years trying to buy Méribel, in which it had a 36 per cent stake. But it ran into opposition from the local council when it tried to take control. The council wanted instead to buy shares from CdA so it could have a say in the running of the business, which the British management was against. Méribel was listed in Paris in 1995, partly to prevent the local council from secretly buying shares.

CdA this year raised its stake to 95 per cent for €22m (£13m) and is now offering €46 per share to buy the balance and de-list the company.

"Buying a resort is not very easy," said Eric Guilpart, director of marketing and communication at CdA. "It is not like buying a factory because it is usually the heart of a district or valley - you have to deal with the local people."

CdA is also in advanced talks with several small Swiss and Italian resorts it hopes to buy.

Additional Information: Méribel Alpina Shares Suspended from 2nd Market

On the 15th November 2000 the CMF (Conseil des marchés financiers) examined the project to suspend Méribel Alpina (MA) shares from the 2nd market after an offer of 46 € per share by the Compagnie des Alpes (CdA) for a remainder of the stock. CdA made a public offer to exchange CdA shares for shares in Méribel Alpina between the 7th of February 2000 and 10th March 2000 and went on to acquire 55,180 shares at 40 € per share from Mr André Surelle on the 25th of October. This brings the CdA's control, indirectly and directly to 95,27% of the voting capital. The exchange was on the basis of 15 CdA shares for 14 MA shares.

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