The Saddleback ski area outside Rangeley is expected to finally be sold, after not operating for the past two winters, and even members of the local group that says it lost out on its bid to buy Maine’s third-largest ski resort is welcoming the development.

The buyer will be introduced at a news conference being held Wednesday at the ski area by its owners, Bill and Irene Berry, who called the prospective sale a “historic deal.”

Many season-pass holders were thrilled Tuesday to learn about the resort’s expected sale. Even some who have worked with the Saddleback Mountain Foundation on its unsuccessful bid to buy the resort said they are happy with any buyer – so long as Saddleback reopens this winter.

Jamie Wright, owner of Gorham Bike and Ski, held an event for the foundation at one of his stores to help get the word out on the effort to purchase the ski area.

“I’m very excited about a new owner even if it means it’s not the Saddleback Mountain Foundation,” said Wright, who owns a condo on the mountain. “I also bought into the foundation and hope I get my money back.”

The foundation, a consortium of local business owners and season-pass holders who have been working to raise money to buy the resort, is taking a cautious approach, said Wolfe Tone, the group’s acting executive director.

“We are going to assemble tomorrow as a group. We want to listen to their plan and learn more about it,” Tone said after confirming that the foundation is not the potential buyer.

The Berrys said they will introduce the new owners at the Saddleback ski lodge at a 10 a.m. news conference that will be attended by representatives from the offices of Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

‘LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL’

After more than two years of rumors, Wednesday’s news conference sounded like the real thing to Joey Morton, who has owned the Town and Lake Motel on Main Street in Rangeley for 32 years.

“I don’t know anything. But I believe the people who told me to be at the press conference,” Morton said. “I have friends who put money into the foundation. They told me to be there. I have just shrugged my shoulders at the rumors, but for the first time in two and a half years, the people who are telling me think this is the light at the end of the tunnel.

“The ski area really is so important,” he said. “Rangeley has been tied to Saddleback for 60 years.”

The Berry family announced the ski area would go up for sale on July 20, 2015, unless they could secure $3 million in financing for a new chairlift to replace the 51-year-old Rangeley Double. When they failed to secure financing, the mountain closed. It didn’t open for the past two ski season, while the family pursued a buyer.

The ski area’s last update on its Facebook page – where it released any news of a potential sale – was Oct. 27, 2016.

The Berrys have owned Saddleback since 2003 and have invested $40 million in improvements, including a new base lodge, two quad chairlifts, new trails and improved snowmaking. The resort, which opened in 1960, has over 60 trails, a vertical drop of nearly 2,000 feet and about 220 acres of skiable terrain.

FOUNDATION’S AGREEMENT

The Berrys reported in 2016 that the resort drew 80,000 to 100,000 skiers a season in the winters before it closed.

In October, the Saddleback Mountain Foundation announced at a Portland news conference that a verbal agreement had been reached with the Berrys to purchase the core ski area for $6 million. At the same news conference, Tone said the Trust for Public Land and the New England Forestry Foundation had reached an agreement with the Berrys to purchase another 3,249 acres around the ski area for an undetermined price to preserve as conservation land.

Stephen Philbrick, a member of the foundation and the owner of Bald Mountain Camps in Oquossoc, reported at that time that the Rangeley region lost as much as $17 to $20 million in revenue because Saddleback sat idle in the winter of 2015-2016.

With 350 employees, Saddleback had been the third-largest employer in Franklin County during the winter.

A fire at the ski area last winter destroyed two condominiums and caused about $800,000 in damage.

HOPING TO SKI

Saddleback skier Gary Small of Freeport said he helped the foundation in its effort, but is thrilled at the news that the mountain might reopen.

“There are so many rumors. Really, nobody knows anything until we know (Wednesday),” Small said. “I’m happy to have the mountain open under any condition. I think most people who are part (of the foundation) are. The main thing we want is a sustainable owner who is not just going to parcel out the property.”

Others, like Michael Salisbury of Freeport, who writes a ski blog, were more skeptical.

“I’ll take a wait-and-see approach. I’ve heard rumors,” Salisbury said. “Hopefully we will be skiing this winter. I was a fan of the foundation, but if the right buyer comes along, that’s good for the area and good for the region. I don’t have a property there. I really feel for the folks in the area who work and live in Rangeley.”

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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