timberland walking shoes Checkmate at the Yellowstone Club
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif.
NINE days after declaring personal bankruptcy again a barefoot Edra Blixseth pads excitedly around Porcupine Creek, her 30,000 square foot estate here. Guests are coming, probably 125 in all. They due any minute. The zipper on her sternum baring cocktail dress is jammed. Do you think it too tight? Can somebody help her?
Porcupine Creek is lavish, with a 240 acre private golf course and a pool guarded by bronze lions. Many visitors have seen all that, plus the automated fountain that splashes at the end of her 1,700 foot driveway.
But so far, only Ms. Blixseth good friends have wandered around the private space inside: the prayer room, the gym, the beauty parlor, the wet room, the cozy massage alcoves and the private theater adorned with murals; then there the 18th century French furniture, the Italian stained glass, the bedroom suite from the Vatican, the ancient Tibetan Tankas. Until this day, she has never hosted a charity event inside her home. Given the circumstances, though, it the best she can do.
can write a check this year, she says, referring to her usual gift to a shelter for battered women. Her Gulfstream IV has been grounded. Her jewelry, mostly sold. To help pay the bills, her boyfriend even had to sell his Bentley.
Edra Denise Blixseth, age 55, is tiny, barely 5 foot 3, but she is at the center of a huge financial mess. According to personal bankruptcy papers her lawyer filed in March, she owes $500 million to $1 billion and has assets of barely half that, almost none of them liquid. Earlier this month, the court approved the sale of one of her most prized possessions the private ski resort in Big Sky, Mont., known as the Yellowstone Club to the private equity firm of one of its members for $115 million. Just a year ago, that same buyer, CrossHarbor Capital Partners, had been willing to pay $400 million for the club.
The Yellowstone Club, a 13,600 acre playground 20 miles north of Yellowstone National Park, may be the world lone members only ski resort. Its pristine natural beauty and remote location have attracted wealthy skiers who prize their privacy, including Bill Gates of Microsoft; Barry Sternlicht, the hotelier; and Peter Chernin, president of the News Corporation.
In one of the signature, fin de si moments of our passing Gilded Age, the Yellowstone Club filed for Chapter 11 protection last November; four months later, Ms. Blixseth followed suit a club and its doyenne, sucked into a financial downdraft that has wounded even once untouchable elites.
Marketed with the phrase Powder, Yellowstone is the anti Aspen luxurious, sure, but discreet and child friendly. Ask members what makes it so special, and more than one offers this simple fact: There, and nowhere else, the family of the world richest man can ski without bodyguards. One club member who, like many Yellowstone members, requested anonymity so as not to be seen as violating the club tradition of not blabbing about one another recalls Mr. Gates saying that his family once tried Vail but their need for security us look like jerks. Here, we don need it. That because the club has long been kept safe by former Secret Service agents, and who can put a price tag on that?
you ski there, you never want to go anywhere else, says Burt Sugarman, a Beverly Hills businessman who with his wife, the Tonight host Mary Hart, was among the club first members.
Steve Burke, the chief operating officer of Comcast, has a place at Yellowstone. As do Bill Frist, the former Senate majority leader; Todd Thomson, the former head of Citigroup private banking unit; Robert Greenhill, founder of the investment bank Greenhill Company; Greg LeMond, a Tour de France winner; Annika Sorenstam, the Swedish golf star; Frank McCourt, the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers; and about 250 other low key rich folks.
Membership has its price: a minimum of $250,000 to join, plus the cost of a $5 million to $35 million mountainside home, plus annual dues of about $20,000, according to members.
The club, which opened in 1997, was the brainchild of Ms. Blixseth former husband, Tim Blixseth. For years they ran it together, installing the caviar bar in the clubhouse,
and giving the 75 ski runs names like Glades and Then in 2005, despite assurances to members that Yellowstone would never take on debt, the Blixseths obtained a $375 million bank loan from Credit Suisse by pledging the assets of the club as collateral.
That, Ms. Blixseth says, is when the trouble began.
didn recognize it as such, but that Credit Suisse loan was the beginning of Tim midlife crisis, she allows, saying she signed off on the loan only after vehemently opposing her ex. we could contain him. After, it was ego gone wild. Blixseth declined repeated interview requests. But in documents filed in the Montana bankruptcy court last Thursday, he describes Ms. Blixseth as someone who millions like money grew on trees and accuses her of being involved in pattern of untruthfulness and dishonest tactics. examples of profligate spending Mr. Blixseth cites in the filing is a $90,000 party that Ms. Blixseth had at Porcupine Creek for more than 100 guests. Guests were invited to whack pi shaped like Mr. Blixseth and which contained chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. Voodoo dolls resembling Mr. Blixseth complete with stickpins were also on display. (Ms. Blixseth acknowledges that the party did indeed occur.)
Since the Credit Suisse loan came through, there have been lawsuits and countersuits more than half a dozen, at least alleging bank fraud, conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty, among other claims.
According to bankruptcy court documents, much of the Credit Suisse money went to create Yellowstone Club World, Mr. Blixseth failed effort to establish a chain of exotic resort locales. Among properties he bought for what he imagined as a sort of megaluxe timeshare were these: a $28 million, 14th century chateau (complete with moat) outside Paris, a $40 million Mexican resort, a $28 million private island in the Caribbean, and a $40 million site in Scotland that was to house a golf retreat (down payment: $12 million). Court documents show that the Blixseths also pocketed $209 million in cash, as well, which they channeled into their family holding company.
When the Blixseths finalized their divorce last year, Mr. Blixseth, now 59, got what was left of that cash and the Mexican and Caribbean properties, among other things. Among Ms. Blixseth spoils were the French spread, known as Ch de Farcheville; the land in St. Andrews, Scotland; the Yellowstone Club (and its debt); and Porcupine Creek, where her fund raiser is about to begin.
As she prepares for her party, she seems more concerned with battered women than with her own sorry financial situation. If she feels any shame, it is hidden under what might be described as a cashmere throw rug of effusive denial.
here to arrest me? she chirps gaily, greeting a large man who is the chief of police of Cathedral City, just a few miles away. She joking he heading the security detail for her fund raiser but the joke is a shade too real. In February, a federal judge ordered her arrest after she missed a court appearance related to her nonpayment of a $13.3 million loan, a sum that looked like lunch money compared with the debt that Yellowstone had amassed: more than $360 million, excluding interest.
people think they better come because it be their last chance to see the house because soon I won have it anymore, she says, speculating on what has helped lure tonight guests to her home. say fine, let use the morbid stuff. she heard the rumor that she and Mr. Blixseth are reconciling? That their divorce was a ruse to throw off creditors? That as recently as a year ago they were considering adopting a baby from China? She laughs she heard them all and says she suspects that Mr. Blixseth (whom she has nicknamed may be spreading the stories.
would rather feel the cold steel of a revolver in the roof of my mouth and pull the trigger than to ever think about living a day with that man again, Ms. Blixseth says, warming to the idea of talking to a journalist. She has turned down 50 requests, she says; this is her first in depth interview ever. kept my mouth shut, and I not doing it anymore. a few years back, Tim Blixseth saw Yellowstone as nothing short of his kingdom. He described himself in other media interviews as the club dictator, and with Ms. Blixseth at his side, he ruled with a velvet fist.
People who knew them say that Mr. Blixseth who had made his fortune in timber, then famously lost it, then made it again was the visionary, the dreamer, the one whose salesmanship and sheer audacity made the club a reality. Early on, Ms. Blixseth served as chief operating officer for a time. But her knack for hospitality was her real contribution.
Members say, mostly with fondness, that Ms. Blixseth aesthetics were more madam than monarch. Indeed, d in some parts of the clubhouse almost smacked of Montana bordello. There, just as at Porcupine Creek, quality met kitsch, with Persian carpets and antiques rubbing up against huge marble statues and a couch covered in real zebra skin.
mix centuries together, Ms. Blixseth acknowledges. She opens an ornate trinket cabinet to retrieve a brown, gourdlike object. you know what this is? A camel scrotum! It holds water. design, Yellowstone welcomed only members who were willing to check their egos at the door one of the club chief selling points.
go to Vail, everyone trying to show they the biggest guy on the planet: the newest Bogners, the fanciest car, the power table at the power restaurant, says Brian Klein, a former Goldman Sachs vice president who joined Yellowstone in 1999. Such look at me people felt out of place at Yellowstone, says Mr. Klein, who now runs an investment management firm in Seattle.
Not that Yellowstone was a monument to austerity. Some homes had private elevators, wine cellars, movie theaters and spas, and one spec house called the River Runs Through It home featured an all glass passageway to the guest quarters with a heated river flowing beneath it. For a while, the club had $1,000 a head New Year Eve bashes, a sommelier and concierge service.
But members say such perks revealed more about the Blixseths than anyone else and contend that it was the club rustic spirit not its bells and whistles that attracted most people. That, and the A list fellowship.
When it came to luring new prospects, Mr. Blixseth used the club best known members as bait, according to members. In the early years, Jack Kemp, the former congressman who until his death in May was on the club honorary board of directors along with Dan Quayle, the former vice president, helped recruit. More recently, Mr. Chernin of the News Corporation another board member and one of the first to build a home at the club has done his part.