December 18, 2012

Saddleback owners put price on their gem

The Berry family, which has invested $40 million and quadrupled the work force, wants $12 million for the 400-acre ski resort.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Saddleback's 44-acre glade called “Casablanca” along with more than five miles of black- and double-black diamond terrain is considered the largest section of top-to-bottom expert terrain east of the Mississippi.

Photo courtesy of Saddleback

Additional Photos Below

MOUNTAIN STATISTICS

ELEVATION: 4,120 Feet

TRAILS: Beginner, 23; Intermediate, 20; Expert, 25

LIFT TICKETS: Adults $45-$59; Youths $39-49

BEST DEAL:Maine Days, All day on select Sundays for $29

WHAT ELSE: Four lifts, Iincluding one T-Bar, and a mid-station yurt cafe.

TO LEARN MORE visit: www.saddlebackmaine.com

GROWTH SINCE 2003:

• From 45 to 121 condo units

• Addition of housing lots from none to 27, including seven with homes

• Two new chairlifts

• New expert terrain, including a 44-acre glade, one of the largest in the East

• Snowmaking that now covers 86 percent of the mountain

• A $13 million renovation of the base lodge

It also has introduced programs that enable youths to ski inexpensively, and has made those programs a priority.

One of the family's proudest offerings is Saddleback's "peak pass," a $149 season pass for any honor roll student in any Maine high school.

It's a deal that goes to the heart of the family's mission: to offer affordable skiing while providing jobs.

Virtually every facet of Saddleback has grown in the time the Berrys have owned it.

Its annual skier visits have increased from 15,000 to 97,000, said Farmer, who expects 130,000 visits this season.

In 2003, there were 45 condos on the mountain; today there are 121.

JoAnne Taylor, Saddleback's event director, said that when she arrived shortly after 2003, no weddings were being held. Now, Saddleback hosts an average of 16 weddings each summer in the spacious base lodge.

And for expert skiers, the terrain has expanded from a few trails to an entire section of the mountain, including the 44-acre tree-skiing area called Casablanca.

"When I got here, expert skiers would drive up, get out and ask if the 'Bronco Buster' trail was open," said Taylor. "And if it wasn't open, they'd get in their car and leave. Now, there are so many expert trails, you could spend a whole day here skiing them all."

Saddleback received the Governor's Award for Business Excellence in Maine this year. Readers of Snow magazine chose it as their favorite mountain in the Northeast.

What remains is for Saddleback to be developed a step further, Berry said, with a hotel and more condominiums.

Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine trade association, who worked at Saddleback in the 1980s, said the prospects for a new owner or partner are exciting.

"The lodging base has been key to their growth," he said. "First, it creates a large core of skiers who own condominiums and become Saddleback's greatest advocates. Then, those units become available to rent and introduce new people to the mountain. The Berrys had a good strategy."

Eric Cianchette, a developer in Portland, is interested in looking at Saddleback, said Malone, and a few other Maine groups have expressed interest.

But among some potential ski developers in Maine, there is no interest.

Former Saddleback CEO Warren Cook tried to put a deal together when he was running Saddleback three years ago, but he isn't interested now, he said Friday from Chamonix, France.

And the western Maine mountains' newest ski operation, Kingfield-based Maine Huts and Trails, won't partner with the Berry family.

"It's quite a ways out of our mission path," said Larry Warren, founder and board chairman of Maine Huts and Trails.

Shepard, with the Maine Winter Sports Center, said a commitment with Saddleback wouldn't work for his nonprofit organization.

He said Saddleback is poised to go to another level, and an owner with capital could take it there.

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

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

The $13 million renovated lodge was one of many upgrades the Berry family spent during their 10-year ownership of Saddleback. They put the ski area up for sale and will begin looking for a buyer outside Maine next week.

Photo courtesy of Saddleback

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A Nov. 26, 2004, photo of construction on the ski lodge at the Saddleback ski resort.

2004 file photo/The Associated Press

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Skier Larry Ross skiing Saddleback's Casablanca glade, which Saddleback CEO Warren Cook made sure was cut by people long familiar with the mountain, in January 2010.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Saddleback ski area's trail map in 2012, showing new lifts, trails, and real estate developments added under the Berry family's ownership.

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Saddleback ski area's trail map in 2003, during the first season under the Berry family's ownership.

 


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