Season pass holders at Saddleback – some of whom paid as much as $2,000 – are confused and angry because there still is no word about whether the ski area outside Rangeley will open this winter.

Saddleback announced in July that it would close if it could not secure $3 million to replace an aging chairlift. The owners, Bill and Irene Berry, were unable to get the financing, but by early September said they were exploring options to sell the resort. On Oct. 8, an update on Saddleback’s Facebook page said: “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. Keep you posted as soon as we have more information!”

That was the last public comment on its future.

Saddleback, the third-largest ski resort in Maine, traditionally has opened in mid-December. But the silence has been frustrating for season pass holders, who have watched other ski areas in Maine already open for the season.

“We are hostages, that’s exactly the word I’d use,” said Gary Small of Freeport, who owns a second home in Rangeley and said he paid about $1,500 for season passes for his family of four.

“It’s unacceptable,” Small said. “The other big mountains are open. (Saddleback is) not really telling us anything. It’s really disrespectful. You talk to anyone at a business school, they would say there has to be a better way to do (public relations).”

Small, 57, said he was told there would be a refund if Saddleback does not open this winter, but not when.

“They owe us the difference if we have to go somewhere else and there is a pass increase. It’s ridiculous now,” he said.

The Berrys would not comment Wednesday on the future of the ski area, according to Saddleback General Manager Chris Farmer. Farmer said he was not authorized to comment on a potential sale.

A Saddleback news release in July said: “The Berry family has guaranteed that all season pass holders will be reimbursed and all vendors will be paid in full if the mountain does not open for the ski season.”

FRUSTRATION BUILDS AMONG SKIERS

It’s common at ski areas for season pass holders to take advantage of early season rates, and many Saddleback skiers said they purchased their passes in the spring to get the discounted rate.

Tracy Sesselberg of Cape Elizabeth, who buys season passes for her family of four, doesn’t think the mountain will open. Now her family is stuck, she said. They have $1,800 invested in their Saddleback ski season, and were told they could not get their money back yet. Sesselberg said they cannot afford to buy season passes at another mountain and risk having season passes at two mountains.

“When it all came out in July, we were like, well, it sounds like we will know in a couple of weeks. But when Aug. 1 came and went, and then Oct. 12 was the deadline and that came and went, it’s just unfortunate,” Sesselberg said. “We bought our passes April 1. That’s sort of ironic. I hate to say it, (but) I can’t imagine them pulling it together and getting the mountain open. I just feel it’s getting so late and they still don’t know.”

Michael Salisbury of Freeport invested $1,500 in Saddleback season passes for his family this winter. He is now concerned about the ski area’s future.

“It’s frustrating,” agreed Terri Sweet Clements of Gardiner, who owns a second home in Rangeley. “We keep getting the same information over and over again. They think that will appease everyone, but it won’t. Nobody knows if the mountain will open.”

Pam Rodgers, who moved to Rangeley recently, said she asked if she and her husband could get their season pass payment refunded and was told “not at this time.”

IMPACT ON WORKERS, BUSINESSES

The Berrys bought Saddleback in 2003 and have invested $40 million in the ski area. Farmer told the Portland Press Herald in July that the owners have operated the resort at a financial deficit since 2008. Mark Berry, son of Bill and Irene, said in July that Saddleback has drawn between 80,000 and 100,000 skiers annually for the last four or for five winters, but that traffic has plateaued. Saddleback has been the third-largest employer in Franklin County during the winters, hiring about 350 seasonal workers.

In downtown Rangeley, some business owners hold little hope that the mountain will open.

Skender Liedl, who has owned The Red Onion restaurant for 45 years, said he’s seen the resort go through ups and downs, but he’s never seen it close for the winter.

“It is unusual. It will affect the entire neighborhood, I guarantee,” Liedl said.

Sandy McDavitt, owner of the Alpine Shop, said the store will close a few days a week this winter because Saddleback’s future is unclear. For the past 56 years it has been open seven days a week, she said.

McDavitt hates the idea of closing some days, but said she can’t afford to stay open without customers.

“I’ve just decided to plan on them not opening. I’m scaling back on staff, I’ve canceled orders,” McDavitt said. “I canceled a huge order of Patagonia. I was very concerned about having goods and not having customers.”