By Shawn Russell. Staff Reporter
With temperatures becoming colder and snow in the near future, ski areas throughout the state are gearing up for the season ahead. However, the future of Saddleback Maine is still in question.
Saddleback Maine, the third largest employer in Franklin County and the third biggest ski resort in the state, announced that it will not open for the Winter 2015-2016 season unless the resort’s main lift, the Rangeley Double Chair, is replaced. The 4,717 foot long, 51-year-old lift has reached the end of its useful life, and owner Mark Berry would like to replace it with a new four-person chairlift.
“In order for Saddleback to be sustainable for the long-term, we’ve decided the lift must be replaced,” said Mark Berry, in a press release regarding the resort’s future. With a four person lift installed, the mountain could have over twice the skiers-per-hour than it has currently, and would attract many more customers.
The Rangeley Double takes more than 15-minutes to reach the top of the lift, whereas other, newer lifts that are comparable in length can take less than half the time to perform the same task, while also carrying four people instead of two.
Bill and Irene Berry of Farmington purchased Saddleback Maine in 2003, and have invested over $40 million into the resort, installing two new quad lifts, a new base lodge and many new glades and trails. However, according to General Manager Chris Farmer, the resort has operated at a financial deficit since 2008.
The Berry family has also been trying to sell the mountain since 2012. The cost to replace the Rangeley Double is $3 million, an expense the Berry family is unable to take on themselves.
“Everyone is very anxiously waiting to see what the Berry family is going to do,” said Kate Myers, a junior at UMF. Myers has been skiing at Saddleback for 15 years, and has also worked at the mountain as a ski coach. “There are many restaurants such as The Red Onion, Forks In The Air, Parkside, Sarges and others that rely heavily on the winter season for income, and many families that ski at Saddleback go out to these restaurants,” said Myers.
With Saddleback being one of Maine’s tallest peaks with a great variety of terrain, some skiers and snowboarders will be eager to hike the mountain if the lifts aren’t spinning.
“Saddleback would be a backcountry mecca if it didn’t open,” said Matt Rolfson, a junior ORBA major at UMF. Rolfson loves to hike and ski untracked and uncharted terrain, and believes Saddleback would be the perfect place to do so if operations are ceased. “Saddleback has incredible snow quality in a region that is tough to get to, therefore snow lasts longer and there is always powder,” said Rolfson.
Saddleback has updated their Facebook page a few times with potential plans since their announcement. The most recent update, posted on October 8th, is bright for those who wish for the mountain to open for the upcoming season. “We are in the midst of serious negotiations with a buyer that plans to open for the winter-hope to be up and running soon,” said the post.