Early in 2015, the owners of Saddleback Mountain announced that they may shut down operation of the mountain in the summer months if they were unable to raise $3 million for a new chairlift.
The mountain has an extremely long, slow and old chairlift called the Rangeley Double that management determined could no longer operate efficiently and profitably.
This lift was essential for accessing the totality of the mountain, so without it, Saddleback could not feasibly operate.
Saddleback made efforts throughout the season to find a financial partner and open, but were unsuccessful and closed for the 2015-2016 winter season.
However, the Saddleback Mountain Foundation, a group of committed “Saddlebackers” and local business owners in the Rangeley region, have developed a viable plan to place Saddleback Mountain under a protective non-profit in hopes of reopening the mountain for recreational use.
They plan to turn the Saddleback ski area into a cooperative, where individuals, families and local businesses can buy shares and agree to minimum yearly purchases.
Those shareholders will become partial owners that get voting rights on mountain operations and development, and get benefits at the ski mountain.
The foundation has reached a verbal agreement with Irene and Bill Berry, the mountain’s previous owners, to purchase Saddleback’s core ski area for $6 million.
The Rangeley community experienced huge losses economically from Saddleback’s season closure. Stephen Philbrick, owner of Bald Mountain Camps in Oquossoc and a member of the Saddleback Mountain Foundation, said in an interview with the Portland Press Herald, “This past winter, the Rangeley region experienced $17 to $20 million in lost revenue because Saddleback was closed.”
The mountain’s potential reopening gives students of the University of Maine’s Ski and Snowboard Club more more options this winter. The club frequently makes trips to Sugarloaf during the winter months and will occasionally visit Sunday River.
“I’ve heard about the sale but I don’t think it’s going to affect UMaine student ski patterns because we almost always get the college pass,” Elise Goperlerud, a fourth-year member of the club, said.
The college pass, also known as the New England pass, grants students access to some of the best skiing in the Northeast, including Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Loon Mountain. The pass is $359 with no blackout dates or limits of any kind. A typical day pass at Sugarloaf is about $89.
“I went to Saddleback once or twice when I was younger and would like to go again,” Sam Jenkins, a member of both the UMaine Ski and Snowboard and Maine Outing clubs, said. “I haven’t been in recent years since I buy the college pass, but if Saddleback was a part of it I would definitely go there too.”
Casey Myhaver, a third-year student on the executive board of the club, was nothing short of heartbroken when he heard Saddleback was closing down. He had held season passes at Saddleback for the past six years when they shut down the mountain.
Even though the resort wasn’t one of the closest mountains to him, the close-knit, small Rangely community mountain was the one he called home.
“I haven’t gotten very involved in the new sale or looked at the specifics, but I know for a fact that there are skiers all over the state that are ecstatic,” Myhaver said. “Saddleback is the perfect place for affordable, family-oriented skiing, which has been absent for the past year. Rangeley is a great community, and Saddleback’s absence has hurt it economically. This new sale could mean the return of a lifestyle for the hundreds of loyal Saddlebackers, myself included.”
Overall, the foundation needs to raise $20 million over four years to make the ski area self-sustaining. In the first year, to get the mountain up and running in 2016-2017, they need to raise between $3 million and $6 million. This plan is based off of other successful operating models around the country.
The fundraising efforts will determine whether the resort operates this winter.