Supporters in Rumford expressed enthusiasm Friday for efforts to save the Black Mountain ski area, which announced last week that it will close due to a lack of revenue and funding.
A meeting Thursday drew 150 supporters of the nonprofit ski area, which is a key venue for high school competitions.
“I’m optimistic it’s going to happen,” said Roger Arsenault, the chair of the mountain’s board of directors. “We’ve raised $50,000 to $60,000 in the last 14 hours. It’s been overwhelming.”
Black Mountain of Maine has been funded and run by the Maine Winter Sports Center since 2003. That year the Libra Foundation, the financial arm behind the nonprofit Maine Winter Sports Center, purchased Black Mountain as part of a statewide effort to produce affordable Alpine and Nordic skiing.
The Libra Foundation poured $9 million over 10 years into Black Mountain, changing the look of the area with a new lodge, new chair lifts, more trails, snowmaking and a $15 lift ticket price aimed at making Alpine skiing accessible to all Mainers.
With 1,380 feet of vertical, Black Mountain is Maine’s fourth-tallest ski mountain, but it’s never been profitable during the Libra Foundation years of ownership.
Andy Shepard, executive director of the Maine Winter Sports Center, won’t divulge the mountain’s finances while he searches for a new owner, but said the ski area was projecting an $80,000 loss this past year.
At the same time, Shepard said the decision this past winter to slash ticket prices to $15 increased skier visits and put the mountain closer than it has been to profitability.
“The dirty little secret in Alpine skiing is there’s a posted price but there are all sorts of opportunities to get discounts. What $15 did was change the conversation. If we brought more skiers to the mountain (who all paid the same price), we weren’t losing money on our day tickets. It took us nine years to find a model that worked, but we did and I’d love to see it continue.”
A KEY MONTH UPCOMING
Shepard said he needs to find a new owner, preferably a nonprofit, to take over the ski area, and a funding source, which could be in the form of a grant or philanthropist.
He said given the work needed to ready a ski area for the winter, he had fewer than 30 days to find a new owner.
He also felt it was necessary to take care of the debt the area has now, and said the Maine Winter Sports Center would do that.
Shepard said he’s committed to pave the way for a secure future for the ski area. Last week he started one of the two fund-raising websites for the cause, and said Friday donations started pouring in.
He said two corporate sponsors already have committed.
Dana Bullen, the Sunday River president, said his larger ski area in western Maine donated to the cause.
“The resort is donating $5,000 in cash to the cause, but more importantly we remain in contact with Andy Shepard and will continue to assist with operational items and other programs as appropriate,” Bullen said.
Shepard said efforts to save Black Mountain are moving in the right direction.
“There is support in the community, tangible support, and an overwhelming response,” Shepard said Friday.
“I want to do this in 30 days. It shouldn’t take more than a month to do this if the will is there.”
Black Mountain stands alone as a key Nordic venue for high school and college ski racers. High school coaches and Maine skiers are watching what happens closely.
A MAINE VENUE
The loss of the ski area that hosted U.S. Nordic championships two of the past three years would impact the entire Maine ski community, high school coaches said.
“I think Black Mountain has been our go-to place for the state championships for a number of years. That would be a huge loss for us,” said Ted Hall, the Yarmouth High principal who sits on the Maine Principals’ Association ski committee.
“They set a high standard. That’s how championships should be run.”
Black Mountain, which boasts nearly 30 miles of Nordic trails, was expected to host at least one of the three Nordic state championships next winter.
“That would be devastating to Nordic skiing in Maine. It is one of the premier venues for Nordic skiing. It can host up to 500 to 600 skiers in a day,” said Jay Lindsey, the Nordic ski coach at Winthrop High.
Meanwhile, Rumford skiers who have grown up and raised their families at the ski area wonder what the future holds, but remain determined to change its fate.
The members of the 96-year-old Chisholm Ski Club were in shock last week.
“My parents were original stockholders. I grew up at Black Mountain,” said Terry Richard, 54, secretary of the Chisholm Ski Club.
“It’s such a tragedy for the community but there was a lot of positive energy at the meeting. We are going to keep it open.”
Arsenault, a Rumford native, said the mountain hosted its first Nordic world championship in 1950, a year without snow in the original location at Lake Placid, N.Y.
The successful event then put Black Mountain on the world map.
As recently as 2011 and 2012, the ski area hosted a U.S. Nordic championship, drawing 500 athletes from across the country, as well as 150 Maine volunteers who came to help.
Those in Rumford who have supported Black Mountain in the past are not backing down now.
“It’s coming together. We’re putting a powerful message out there. My phone has been ringing all day,” Arsenault said. “I’m optimistic because I’ve got to be. We need $100,000 but my goal is $150,000. And I think we’ll get there sooner than 30 days. That mountain means so much to the community.”
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: